Meng Hongwei had been a loyal member of the Chinese Communist Party for more than 40 years when he was elected in November 2016 as president of Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, which is based in the French city of Lyon. When Meng was China’s deputy minister of public security, human rights organizations repeatedly accused his department of grave human rights violations including the use of torture, arbitrary detention and the suppression of human rights.
One of the chief reasons for concern about Meng’s appointment is the system of “red notices” that Interpol circulates to all member countries to notify them that an arrest warrant has been issued by a judicial authority in a member country or by an international court. In 2015, Interpol issued around 100 of these notices about individuals wanted by the Chinese authorities without it being clear whether Interpol was able to verify their legitimacy and the absence of any political dimension to the case. Interpol is currently looking for a total of 160 persons who are wanted by the Chinese authorities for “fraud”, an extremely vague accusation that China often uses as grounds for arresting government opponents and political refugees.
“Normally, if you live under a dictatorship, you can flee to another country. But I am afraid that, as a result of this appointment, all police forces will cooperate with the Chinese government.” the dissident Wei said at a news conference in Lyon on 5 April that was organized for him by the newspaper Lyon Capitale.
Speaking to RSF, Wei Jingsheng pointed out that Beijing now has access to sensitive informations it didn’t have before and that "The appointment of Meng Hongwei indicated that Interpol has strengthened its cooperation with the Chinese government. Through the propaganda and misleading of the Chinese Communist regime, Chinese people believe that all the police in the world systematically and actively collaborate with the Chinese government."
“Wei Jingsheng’s outrage and concern about the danger of having a leading persecutor of human rights defenders at the head of Interpol are far from being exaggerated,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We point out that China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The international community should at the very least insist on guarantees from Interpol that it will not be manipulated and that it will review its ‘red notice’ procedures so that they are not used against Chinese journalists and bloggers and anyone trying to cover the disastrous human rights situation in China.”
RSF has had concerns in the past about Interpol’s cooperation with judicial systems that take orders from the executive, and with governments that harass journalists and human rights defenders. In 2013, RSF condemned French journalist Daniel Lainé’s conviction in absentia by a court in Phnom Penh over a TV report he had made on sex tourism in Cambodia. Although Lainé had not been able to defend himself at the trial, Interpol issued a red notice that led to his arrest while on a trip to Cuba. He avoided extradition only because there is no bilateral accord between Cuba and Cambodia.
At the Sri Lankan government’s request, Interpol issued a red notice in 2010 for the arrest of Chandima Withanaarachch, the editor of a website covering corruption and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. It was clearly intended to discourage journalists from covering subjects that embarrassed the government.
RSF reported a similar case of Interpol being manipulated, in this case by the government of Maldives, in 2005, when the Sri Lankan police raided the Colombo headquarters of a Maldivian exile radio station and website, radio Minivan and Minivannews.com. The Sri Lankan police acted in response to a request from Interpol, which had received a baseless claim from the Maldivian authorities that the exile journalists were planning to overthrow the Maldivian government by force and had hidden weapons in their offices in Colombo.