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DOJ Asked to Probe China's Use of INTERPOL Notices to Persecute Dissidents

Interpol President Meng Hongwei walks toward stage to deliver his opening address at the Interpol World congress on July 4, 2017, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has been asked to probe how China is reportedly abusing INTERPOL’s Red Notice system to harass and threaten dissidents and their family members.

A red notice is not an arrest warrant but “a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition,” says INTERPOL. “It is issued by the General Secretariat at the request of a member country or an international tribunal based on a valid national arrest warrant… INTERPOL cannot compel any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice. Each member country decides for itself what legal value to give a Red Notice within their borders.”

Most red notices are available only to law enforcement, but some are posted online with sensitive information withheld.

Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions citing a Human Rights Watch finding that “Chinese authorities, using Interpol red notices as a justification, used various means to systematically harass family members.”

By using the red notices to harass and detain relatives still living in China, the PRC tries to compel dissident “suspects” abroad to return for prosecution.

“HRW has documented threats to China-based relatives of four individuals living in the United States for whom Interpol has reportedly issued red notices at China’s request. Specifically, HRW reported that Chinese authorities have threatened to detain relatives of such individuals, if they failed to convince the individual to return to China from the United States. Chinese authorities have also reportedly barred relatives from traveling outside China, frozen their assets, caused them to lose employment, or warned their business partners not to work with them,” the senators wrote.

“While we take no position on the merits of these specific red notices, even properly-issued red notices for legitimate targets would not justify collective punishment of family members,” they added. “Additionally, recent press reports indicate that several countries, including China, may be abusing the red notice process to harass or persecute dissidents and activists abroad. Questions have also been raised about the ability of Interpol’s president, Meng Hongwei, to maintain Interpol’s neutrality in this regard, given his concurrent position as China’s Vice Minister of Public Security.”

The lawmakers asked the Justice Department, as the designated U.S. representative to INTERPOL, to provide information on any cases of Chinese harassment or coercion of U.S.-based individuals based on the red notices.

“Have you or other members of the Department of Justice’s leadership raised any of these issues in bilateral law enforcement dialogue with counterparts from the People’s Republic of China?” the senators asked. “If not, will you commit to doing so as appropriate?”