Despite Concerns by Rights Groups, Interpol Appoints UAE Official as President

Human rights groups said in May that elected Emirati Inspector General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi's department had not investigated credible allegations of torture by security forces

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Interpol's newly-elected President Emirati Inspector General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi
Interpol's newly-elected President Emirati Inspector General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi Credit: Interpol Press Office/Reuters

Global police agency Interpol elected Emirati Inspector General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi as its president on Thursday, despite accusations from rights groups that he failed to act on allegations of torture of detainees in the United Arab Emirates.

Although the presidency is a part-time role and does not oversee day-to-day operations of the agency, the president is a high profile figure who chairs meetings of Interpol's assembly and executive committee.

Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Center for Human Rights said in May that Raisi's department had not investigated credible allegations of torture by security forces, and electing Raisi would put Interpol's commitment to human rights in doubt.

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A spokesperson for the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Raisi "strongly believes that the abuse or mistreatment of people by police is abhorrent and intolerable".

Responding to questions about Raisi's candidacy and Interpol's election process, Secretary General Jurgen Stock said Interpol did not intervene in politics.

"We also do not have the mandate to, for instance, start any investigation on national issues. That is the national sovereignty where we have to stay away," Stock said this week.

Human Rights Watch has said hundreds of activists, academics and lawyers are serving lengthy sentences in UAE jails, often following unfair trials on vague and broad charges. The UAE has said those accusations are false and unsubstantiated.

Two men said this week they had filed a criminal case with Turkish prosecutors against Raisi, while he was in Istanbul for the election at the Interpol general assembly.

Logo of Interpol during the 89th Interpol General Assembly in IstanbulCredit: Ozan Kose/AFP

Matthew Hedges, 34, an academic at the University of Exeter, said he was held in solitary confinement for seven months in 2018 in the UAE over allegations of espionage when he went to the country to do research for his doctorate.

He said he was threatened with physical violence or rendition to an overseas military base and harm to his family. "This was done by the Emirati security services within a building that Nasser al-Raisi ... has responsibility for," Hedges told Reuters in Istanbul.

"The possibility of al-Raisi becoming Interpol president sets an extremely dangerous precedent where systematic abuses are legitimized and normalized for other states to continue using them around the world," he added.

The UAE has said Hedges was not subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention.

Ali Issa Ahmad, 29, said he was detained during a holiday when he went to the UAE to watch the Asian Cup in 2019 because he wore a T-shirt with a Qatar flag, at a time when there was a diplomatic row between the two countries.

He said he was electrocuted, beaten and deprived of food, water and sleep on several days during his detention.

The UAE ministry spokesperson said that any legal complaint filed with allegations against "Raisi is without merit and will be rejected". Turkish authorities have not said whether they will pursue the two men's complaints.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the General Assembly in Istanbul, outgoing President Kim Jong Yang welcomed the newly elected Interpol officials, saying they could "count on the continued support of the General Assembly".

"I wish you the very best in guiding the organization in this essential supervisory function," he said.

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