Fikret Huseynli, a journalist of Azerbaijani origin living in exile in the Netherlands, this week became the second foreign journalist to be arrested at a Kiev airport on the basis of an Interpol red notice in the past month. He follows Uzbek journalist Narzullo Akhunzhonov, who was arrested on arrival from Turkey on 20 September.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Ukrainian authorities to free Huseynli at once and calls for an urgent reform of Interpol, whose red notice system is often abused by repressive governments in order to pursue dissidents after they have fled abroad.
Huseynli was about to board a flight to Düsseldorf at Boryspil International Airport on 14 October when he was arrested under a red notice issued by Interpol at the Azerbaijani government’s request. It accused him of “crossing a border illegally” and “fraud.”
Following his arrest, a Kiev court ordered him held for 18 days pending examination of his appeal.
The fact that Huseynli was arrested when he left, and not when he arrived, would seem to reflect the political reasons behind the red notice’s accusations. His arrest appears to have been encouraged by Azerbaijani officials who were at the airport as he was about to leave and who wanted to take advantage of his visit to Ukraine to detain him.
“Ukraine must not abet the attempts of regimes such as Azerbaijan’s to extend their persecution beyond their borders,” RSF said. “We call for Fikret Huseynli’s immediate release, as he would face politically-motivated charges. This latest case underlines the urgent need to reform Interpol’s red notice system in order to quickly end the pursuit of dissidents after they flee into exile.”
Huseynli fled Azerbaijan in 2008 after being persecuted in various ways. He was badly injured in an attack by masked men in 2006, when he worked for the opposition newspaper Azadlig. After fleeing the country, he obtained political asylum in the Netherlands and now works for Turan TV, an Azerbaijani opposition TV channel based outside the country.
The number of Interpol red notices has grown almost five-fold in the past decade, from 2,804 in 2006 to 12,878 in 2016, prompting criticism from civil society groups that has finally received some attention.
Interpol began reinforcing its appeal mechanism in 2015 but much remains to be done, both as regards putting the reforms into practice and providing better filtering of requests from repressive states.
This was stressed in an April 2017 resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which called on Interpol “to continue improving its red notice procedure in order to prevent and redress abuses even more effectively.”
Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. After eliminating the last vestiges of an independent press in the past three years, its authorities are now trying to extend their reach beyond its borders.