On July 2, 2015, the Sarawak Report, a UK-based online media source covering environmental politics in Sarawak, Malaysia, published an article accusing the Prime Minister of Malaysia—NajibRazak—of receiving nearly $700 million of deposits in his personal account from monies related to a state investment fund. Approximately one month later on August 4, 2015, the Royal Malaysia Police obtained an arrest warrant for Clare Rewcastle-Brown, the London-based investigative journalist and founder of the Sarawak Report, for committing “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” and for publishing “statements likely to cause public alarm.”
In an effort to extradite Ms. Rewcastle-Brown—who currently lives in London—the Malaysian government sought the issuance of a “red notice” from INTERPOL to obtain her arrest abroad. In an unusual move for INTERPOL, the organization released a letter from Secretary General Jurgen Stock, confirming that Malaysia had requested the issuance of a red notice for Ms. Rewcastle-Brown, but that the request was reviewed “in line with our standard operating procedure” and denied on August 9, 2015. According to the letter, “[a]ll 190 member countries were informed of the decision and advised not to use INTERPOL’s channels in this matter.”
A red notice is a request for detention that is circulated to all member countries at the request of one member country “to seek the location and arrest of a person wanted by a judicial jurisdiction . . . with a view to his or her extradition.” Before a red notice may be published by INTERPOL, red notice requests are examined for compliance with the rules governing the publication of information by INTERPOL, which require that INTERPOL verify that the offense for which the individual is sought involved “a serious ordinary-law crime,” that the offense not “raise controversial issues relating to behavioural or cultural norms,” “family/private matters,” and not originate “from a violation of laws or regulations of an administrative nature.” INTERPOL’s Rules on the Processing of Data, Art. 83. In addition, the request must be in compliance with INTERPOL’s Constitution, which forbids INTERPOL from “undertak[ing] any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious, or racial character.” INTERPOL’s Constitution, Art. 3.
Notwithstanding INTERPOL’s rules against issuing red notices related to political, military, religious, or ethnic disputes, INTERPOL has come under fire in recent years for doing just that. A 2011 report conducted by Freedom House International concluded that approximately 28 percent of red notices studied were from countries identified as having no civil liberties and almost half were from countries ranked as the most corrupt in the world. Combined with emerging information-sharing technologies which have increased the ability of member countries to circulate notices and diffusions without INTERPOL oversight, many have decried the ability countries now have to use red notices to target political enemies.
The consequences of having a red notice or diffusion issued against an individual can be devastating. Beyond the likely arrest, detention, and possible extradition of the targeted individual, additional collateral consequences often attend the issuance of a red notice or diffusion, including the loss of ability to travel and the damage to reputation that accompanies the public posting of an individual’s information online. Although INTERPOL’s decision to deny the Malaysian government’s red notice request should be applauded, the case illustrates that many countries continue to view INTERPOL as a tool to locate and target political, ethnic, religious, or military enemies.
Defending oneself against a red notice can be a complex process, often involving retaining counsel abroad and inquiring into the originating country’s criminal justice system. Without a knowledgeable and experienced defense team, those targeted by a red notice may suffer arrest, detention, and extradition to face criminal charges abroad.
- Sarawak Report, “Sensational Findings! – Prime Minister NajibRazak’s Personal Accounts Linked to 1MDB Money Trail Malaysia Exclusive,” July 2, 2015, available at http://www.sarawakreport.org/2015/07/sensational-findings-prime-minister-najib-razaks-personal-accounts-linked-to-1mdb-money-trail-malaysia-exclusive/(last visited October 14, 2015).
- Sarawak Report, “Refused! – Interpol Rejects Najib’s Red Notice Request Against Sarawak Report,” August 28, 2015,available athttp://www.sarawakreport.org/2015/08/refused-interpol-rejects-najibs-red-notice-request-against-sarawak-report/ (last visited October 14, 2015).
- INTERPOL’s Rules on the Processing of Data and INTERPOL’s Constitution, available at http://www.interpol.int/About-INTERPOL/Legal-materials (last visited October 14, 2015).
- Kathy Gilsinan, “Interpol at 100: Does the World’s Police Force Work?” The Atlantic, May 12, 2014,available at http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/interpol-the-global-police-force-that-isnt/362086/ (last visited October 14, 2015).