Fugitive alerts issued by Interpol, the international law enforcement clearinghouse, can make it hard for fugitives to slip across borders. But the group’s “red notice” database, which can be reviewed by authorities across the world to identify people facing prosecution, is frequently used by authoritarian governments to control and persecute dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.
Because it is generally time-consuming and difficult for individuals to challenge red notices, they often have a ruinous effect on those most vulnerable to government abuse. Red notices can prevent individuals from being issued visas, they can bar them from legally crossing borders and even limit a person’s ability to travel abroad after he or she has been granted political asylum.
Rasoul Mazrae, a citizen of Iran, was an outspoken critic of his government. Although his political speech would have been protected in the United States as a constitutional right, in Iran his conduct was considered a crime against the state. Fleeing his persecutors, Mazrae was taken into custody in Syria based on a wanted alert published by the International Criminal Police Organization—Interpol. He was extradited to Iran, jailed, tortured, and then sentenced to death. The wanted alert disseminated by Interpol for Mazrae’s capture was a Red Notice, which under Interpol’s constitution should not have been issued because Mazrae’s crime was of a “political character.” His case is just one example of numerous instances where Interpol’s Red Notice system has been exploited by its members to locate, detain, and extradite persons for political, racial, or religious reasons. In these and even legitimate cases warranting Interpol’s engagement, Red Notices come with considerable human impact. Those targeted often suffer serious financial, personal and professional harm; ultimately, they face arrest, detention, and extradition.