Interpol branded a ‘tool for dictators’ after new chief voted in

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Matthew Hedges - Christopher Pledger
Matthew Hedges - Christopher Pledger

Interpol is now a “tool for dictators”, the British academic allegedly tortured in the United Arab Emirates has said, after the UAE’s security chief was elected the body’s president.

Matthew Hedges, who was interrogated for months without a lawyer in 2018, warned that the election on Thursday of General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi to the head of the international policing organisation gave authoritarian regimes carte blanche to hunt down opponents.

It comes as the Middle East expert revealed he had been routinely followed in London by people he believes to be agents of the UAE.

He accused the Gulf state of a deliberate campaign of “intimidation” as he highlights human rights abuses in the country.

Last night Mr Hedges’ lawyer, who is understood also to have been subject to surveillance, called on police to investigate what he called a “matter of grave concern”.

General Al-Raisi was elected president of Interpol at the annual assembly in Turkey having received 69.9 per cent of the votes from member countries.

Despite having been accused of overseeing torture by multiple human rights organisations, his victory was considered a foregone conclusion by many observers following a lengthy behind-the-scenes campaign by the UAE, coupled with large financial contributions to the organisation.

General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi has been chosen as the new head of Interpol
General Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi has been chosen as the new head of Interpol

Interpol was already under fire for routinely issuing “red notices” on behalf of oppressive governments, allowing opponents to be detained overseas.

Mr Hedges, 34, who was interrogated for 15 hours a day and given a highly damaging cocktail of drugs over seven months in an Abu Dhabi prison, said General Al-Raisi’s election would “take the reins off” the international system.

“This 100 per cent makes Interpol a tool for dictators and it legitimises abuse of red notices,” he said.

“What are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and China going to think now when they want to hunt down adversaries overseas?

“It’s a sad day for international policing.”

Mr Hedges has launched civil proceedings in the UK and criminal action in France and Turkey against General Al-Raisi for his alleged torture in 2018.

Three other senior Emirati officials are also being sued in the UK

Mr Hedges, then researching his PhD at Durham University, was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for spying, but released shortly after. General Al-Raisi is also accused of being personally responsible for the physical abuse and torture of another British citizen, Ali Ahmad, who was arrested in the UAE for wearing a Qatar football shirt.

If the French authorities decide to proceed with the case it raises the prospect the General could become the first Interpol chief not to be able to travel to the body’s headquarters in Lyon.

Emirati authorities have publicly backed the general and deny all the allegations against him.

"Not only is General Al-Raisi himself accused of complicity in torture and grave human rights violations, but the United Arab Emirates has established itself as one of the most prolific abusers of the Interpol system," said Radha Stirling, the head of the campaign group Detained in Dubai.

Academic left with PTSD after imprisonment

Mr Hedges’ time in prison left him suffering frequent panic attacks and battling PTSD, anxiety and depression.

He said he believes he is being “endlessly” followed in a bid to deter him from his advocacy against the General.

The latest incident took place on Nov 8, when he noticed the same car outside his home in north-west London and then later that day outside the chambers of his lawyer in Temple.

He and his legal team also believed they were under surveillance during a recent visit to France to launch legal action against the Emirati officials.

“In recent weeks we have had physical and security threats which have been quite uncomfortable,” he said.

“We’ve raised these issues with SO15 [Scotland Yard’s counter terrorism command].

“It’s difficult to prove these things, but when patterns emerge, you have to say something.”

Rodney Dixon QC, who represents Mr Hedges, Mr Ahmed and other alleged victims of torture in the UAE, said: “This is of grave concern because Matthew’s wife was previously followed in London when she was campaigning for his release.

“The same practices appear to be repeating now with Matthew being followed in London.

“It’s most important that the police investigate, having been given the details. We look forward to their response.”

Regarding the Interpol election, he said: “My clients will redouble their efforts to seek justice for their torture and pursue General Al-Raisi in national courts wherever he travels in his new position.

"Under the law he enjoys no protection from criminal investigation because of his election. He cannot hide from the very serious accusations against him."

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