Pyotr Silaev: My adventures with Interpol
On 22 August 2012, the anti-fascist Pyotr Silaev was arrested in Grenada. He is an activist in anti-governmental protests, and the author of the book “Exodus” (published in Finland, Greece, Italy and Germany), under the pseudonym DJ Stalingrad. Pyotr took part in the infamous protests in Khimki, which for some protestors ended in jail or hospital (as it did for the renowned journalist Oleg Kashin, who was attacked with baseball bats near his home). Around 400 young people threw stones and flares at the administrative office of the town in protest against the construction of the Moscow – St. Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest – one of the few remaining green oases around Moscow. The situation bore some similarity to the recent events in Istanbul.
The grounds for the arrest were participation in an unsanctioned demonstration. But in Russia, who sanctions demonstrations by opponents to the regime? At the time of his arrest, Pyotr Silaev had the status of a category A political refugee in Finland, which did not stop the Spanish police from putting him in a Madrid jail at the request of the Russian prosecutor’s office, which sent information about Pyotr to Interpol. Just to be on the safe side, Madrid charged Pyotr with terrorism and possession of weapons and explosives. Not even the intervention of the Finnish embassy helped. It was like something out of Kafka! When he got out of jail, Pyotr was forced to remain on Spanish territory, without any means of support and under the threat of deportation to Russia. All of the charges against him were only dropped quite recently.This is what the author himself wrote about the reason for his arrest and the “excellent” work of Interpol.
My adventures with Interpol
Yesterday I received a letter from Interpol – and I sighed with relief. From all appearances, this strange international case which I unexpectedly found myself at the center of was coming to an end. Oligarchs, “red notices”, terrorism – “…from all these woes, may God deliver us…” I’ll discuss everything in order.
In July 2010, on a hot day, I made an ill-fated trip to the Moscow Oblast with a group of friends, which ended with the Khimki prosecutor’s office opening a criminal case against me under the laughable charge of “hooliganism”. No one understood, not at the time or later, what my crime actually involved. A few months later I was traveling in the European Union on a tourist visa, waiting for a decision on my application to be granted political refuge – while the Moscow Region police continued to arrest, beat and use plastic bags to suffocate my distant acquaintances, interrogating them to find out where I was hiding in Moscow. The people gasped for air as they were tortured, but they really could not help the police at all – and so I was put on the federal wanted list. Perhaps this played a crucial role in the decision of the Finnish authorities to grant me the “elite” status of a political refugee – category “A” international protection.
In August 2012, I left cold Finland for Spain to warm myself in the rays of the scorching sun, and indeed I had plenty of opportunity to get warm, in the walking yard of the maximum security prison Soto del Real. In the morning, a police squad came bursting in to the room of the cheap hostel where I was staying, handcuffed me and took me to the station with a convoy – they told me that I was charged with possessing weapons and explosives. I was alarmed – everyone knows about the Spanish paranoia of the war on terrorism, and I could really have ended up in a really nasty situation because of a mistake. After long hours of waiting, I was taken to the investigator’s office – there was already a group of inquisitive officers in the room, as well as the public lawyer. I was shown a photocopy of an order from Interpol for 2011: articulo 213 de codigo penal de Federacia Rusa – “Gamberrismo” (hooliganism) – two years later the “Khimki case” had finally caught up with me.
I sighed with relief and took my plastic refugee card out of my pocket – status “A”, international protection. “No te entiendo” – no one in the room could read or speak English. By using gestures, I tried to tell the police about the basic meaning of the Geneva convention of 1951, inform them about the regulations on the status of refugees, non-refoulement and the common European space of political refuge. I only made them smile – no one believed me. “Sign everything,” the lawyer said. “You’ll be sent home soon, you won’t have to spend so long in jail.”
I was handcuffed again and taken to the court in Madrid. “OK,” I thought, as I lay on the floor of the police car, with my hands behind my back. “Perhaps a provincial policeman doesn’t know international law. At the National court, the highest court in the kingdom, they must be better informed.” I was mistaken – on the same day, the judge, without looking at my papers from the Finnish embassy, signed a decree to put me in custody and start the extradition process. It took me 10 days, using all my efforts and connections, for this decision to be overturned, and for me to be released. After this, my case dragged on for another six months out of inertia, and ended with the unanimous decision of the judges that it did “not conform to legislation”.
Since then I have had quite a lot of time to look more deeply into the problem of extradition legislation and cooperation on the basis of Interpol. First of all, I was interested as to whether a person could really be extradited from one country of the European Union if he had political refuge in another. In international law, there is a regulation on “non-refoulement” – “non-extradition”, when the state may officially refuse extradition in a court of law. However, this regulation did not apply to me – I was already under political protection at the moment of my arrest. The Geneva Convention states directly that refugees cannot be extradited under any circumstances. However, the Geneva Convention is already over half a century old, and I would have to find some internal European document which directly refuted this possibility.
I started searching. In 1999, in the Finnish city of Tampere, a summit of European Union countries on issues of immigration was held. By that time, the flows of people who used the Convention of 1951 as their last chance to escape from the hell of “third world” countries had become a flood: hundreds of thousands of people fled on rafts from Turkey to Greece, from Libya to Italy, from Algeria and Morocco to Spain, and from the CIS people fled in trains to Poland. These were well-established routes by which you could enter the territory of the European Union, request political refuge, and while your case was being examined, you could go to better-off parts of the Schengen zone, such as Belgium or the Netherlands, and submit your documents again. To prevent these movements, it was decided to unite national procedures for receiving refugees into a common system – the result of the meeting in Tampere was the signing of a declaration of intentions to unify the system completely for all countries in the European Union. “A common Europe – a common refuge”.
14 years have gone by since then – to my own dissatisfaction, I discovered that these recommendations were implemented in a very one-sided way. In 2003, the infamous “Dublin-2” bill appeared, which consolidated the judicial aspect of the “Fortress Europe” project with its regulations for once and for all. Information about all immigrants is now recorded in a single data base, and those requesting refuge are concentrated in a system of special camps on the territory of “buffer” countries – from the list given above. The authorities of the European Union now take the decision themselves where you have the right to be – “political protection is equal and identical in each one of the countries”. At the same time, no documents were signed to the effect that this protection applies to the territory of the other countries. “One for all, but not all for one” – this contradiction is quite glaring, but nevertheless, no steps have yet been taken to fix the situation.
In the end, I found an assessment of the existing situation in a report by the UN High Commissioner for refugees – and my heart sank. “A person in such position can find himself in a very precarious situation” – this was all that the head international body on issues of political refuge could tell me. Every year, many journalists, bloggers, activists and politicians are arrested in European Union countries – as a result of orders signed in Uzbekistan, Belarus, Indonesia or China. European legislation cannot do anything to oppose this, despite the Convention of 1951, the mere mention of which makes lawyers smirk.
There are grounds for skepticism – the post-war agreement on the status of refugees was clearly intended for a world which was not destined to come into being. In accordance with this agreement, all of the signatory countries undertake not to return refugees under any circumstances – and almost every country signed it. Thus, literally following the principle would theoretically lead to a situation when any criminal could buy himself refugee status in Uzbekistan, and forget about prosecution forever – it is not surprising that in all countries around the world, people usually turn a blind eye to the Convention. The only overseer of the Convention today is the institution of the UN High Commissioner, who at present mainly carries out advisory functions. In a case when a country does not observe the rules of the Convention, he may apply certain sanctions – which are unfortunately also of an advisory nature. Thus, the dichotomy of “Interpol – political refuge” that was invented half a century ago was completely violated: with a “red notice” from Interpol, you will really be arrested and thrown in jail – and physically, not on an advisory level.
It’s now time to say a few words about Interpol – I constantly encounter systematic ignorance about this institution among the people I talk to. No, I’m not going to discuss the fact that in the 1930s its headquarters was located in Vienna, and after the Anschluss the organization came under the control of the Third Reich – at one time it was headed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner himself. That’s not what I want to talk about at all. Interpol is an international non-commercial organization, which at present is based in France, in the city of Lyon. Its main activity is to support the work of special postal mailing, such as echo conferences on FidoNet, to which national offices may write applications. In Lyon, these requests are processed, they are given codes and labels – and then sent over the entire network. Interpol itself does not investigate cases and does not issue orders – it is just a postal client, which allows national security bodies to exchange data about people of interest to them in a unified form. After the trial was over, I received copies of this correspondence: in broken English, the investigator Ochnev from Khimki (in the correspondence he amusingly called himself “agent Ochnev”) requested to be given assistance in my arrest. In two sentences, he stated the charge against me: “he joined a mob of 150-300 people, which marched to the administration building, and using rocks, paint bombs and smoke flares, did damage to the building of a cost of 395,000 rubles”. No real actions on my part were described in this letter – the Spanish police had to resort to falsification, and changed the smoke flares into “possessing explosives” – no judge would have signed a sanction for arrest on the charge of “joining a mob”.
This really would have been amusing, if it hadn’t been sad – thanks to one simple email, I was not only arrested and spent some time in jail – in the course of my slow-moving case, the Spanish was forced to exchange investigative correspondence with the Russian Interior Ministry, and gave them a lot of personal information about me – my current addresses, above all… I decided to act, and wrote a letter to another office which worked on cases for exclusion from the Interpol database – the British association Fair Trials International. Previously, while studying the statistics for extradition cases, I had come across several sensational cases which they had won – and it was a pleasant surprise for me when they rang me the next day.
“Your case is very interesting for us – it’s a gross violation on Interpol’s part” –I could hear genuine enthusiasm in the case manager’s voice,. “We’re also very happy to have a case from Russia in our portfolio. It’s very pleasant for us to finally be dealing with a… traditional activist, you understand…”
The machinery of the law was put in motion, and we drew up an official statement to the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) – a special body designed to examine national requests for compliance with the third article of the Interpol Constitution. “The organization is strictly prohibited from taking part or intervening into activities of a political, military, religious or racial nature.” In my case, the Commission had clearly committed negligence, and not only failed to see the political motive of my prosecution, but also the lack of an element of crime – which was noted by the National Court of Spain in a harsh form. Several reports appeared in the press, the English made a small clip with my participation – everything took its course, until the Russian authorities acted in their usual manner.
Drooling with pleasure, officials from the Interior Ministry informed the public that they had just sent Interpol a request for the arrest of William Browder, the head of the Hermitage Capital hedge fund, which initiated sanctions against a number of Russian officials on the Magnitsky List, which, I guess, everyone is familiar with. I still don’t understand why they published this – there is no doubt that the CCF would have let pass this request, and Browder would have been suddenly arrested somewhere in Saudi Arabia while on a business trip, to his great dissatisfaction. But the Russians preferred to publicly humiliate themselves rather than play a witty prank: a scandal erupted on the pages of all the newspapers in England. Browder wrote furious articles, human rights advocates castigated the bloody regime, and commentators recalled that Kaltenbrunner had been the head of Interpol. Fair Trials International also cautiously raised its voice, stating that timely reform of the entire organization and the CCF in particular could prevent such situations. In many articles, as an illustrative example of the unprincipled nature of the Russian authorities in using the international warrant system, my case was mentioned – and unexpectedly for myself, I became an English media personality. The bacchanalia in the press lasted for a week, until finally a roar of thunder was heard – the voice of Interpol itself. “Big Ron” – Ronald Noble, the general secretary of the organization, replied in an open letter to The Telegraph.
“Interpol makes the world safer” – first of all, Mr. Noble informs the public that Russia’s request concerning William Browder was thoroughly examined for presence of political motivation – and rejected. The rest of the letter is a rather harsh rebuff to any proposals for possible changes in the system: “The recent example of William Browder’s case demonstrates the extent to which Interpol cares for human rights – and does not require any reforms”.
Mr. Noble continues: “Would our critics really not want Russia to warn us about suspected child molesters, human traffickers, rapists, murderers… or terrorists, as in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers?”
It was a very strange letter – because the article by the columnist Peter Oborne, which Noble formally replied to, was mainly about me. It contained rather harmless sentiments in favor of reforming the system for gathering data – so why did it get such an aggressive response, so that I found myself in the company of child molesters and murderers? Especially since the need for this reform has been under discussion for many years.
The methodology and practice of Interpol is terribly outdated – every police officer knows that a request to include a dossier in the database usually lasts at least a year. Many Poles, Czechs and Latvians were with me in the Madrid prison, who were arrested by Interpol for unpaid consumer loans – after extradition they would be immediately released, as their cases would have long been closed by that time. In 1994, the Europeans created a more modern and effective system of searches for wanted people – it is called Europol, and it carries out the same functions on the territory of the EU.
Interpol is a very small organization, and around 700 people work at its headquarters in Lyon – for all 190 member countries. This gives scope for arbitrary decisions and corruption – in 2008, Interpol President Jackie Selebi was dismissed on charges of taking bribes and suspected links with drug cartels. It would be quite unrealistic to expect that this number of people could control all the correspondence sent to them by “Agent Ochnevs” from all over the world. The system is mainly built on trust, and the assumption that all police officers in the world are honest – an idea that is even more utopian than the Geneva Convention or the Declaration of Human Rights put together.
This is also the memory of a world which was not destined to come into being – the world of post-war optimism. However, there is more involved than optimism – in the new, highly unstable geopolitical situation, the main players had to create a certain framework, a common humanitarian playing field, in which everyone would be prepared to operate on equal conditions. Since then, over half a century has gone by, and no one needs optimism or a common chessboard – UN bodies at present mainly carry out information functions. At the same time, Interpol, on the contrary, is constantly expanding, increasing its budget, and bringing in new members. Mr. Noble signs an agreement with the Turkmenistan Interior Ministry, he visits Dushanbe, goes to a reception in Mongolia – and congratulates Alexander Lukashenko on solving the case of the explosion in the Minsk metro at lightning speed. The two men who were charged with the explosion were subsequently executed, although the majority of human rights advocates believe them to be innocent. This was a very provocative gesture, given the image that the “last dictator in Europe” has in the world – one gets the feeling that Noble is playing his own international game.
Ronald Noble became the Secretary General of Interpol in 2000, at a time when the organization was in a state of permanent crisis. But a year later, on the 11th of September, everything changed. “We can say that Interpol was reborn on the 11th of September 2001,” Noble later said. Enormous funds were invested in its rebirth – from this point onwards, the key task of the organization was gathering information about armed groups and rebels all over the world. In particular, new classes of notices were introduced, which made it possible to keep track of the movements of suspects, along with new data bases of identification documents and drivers’ licenses – Ronald Noble felt very comfortable in his role. On his CV, his previous job was at the US Department of the Treasury, where he was the Undersecretary for Enforcement. He was in charge of the US Secret Service (the president’s personal body guard service), and also the Office for combating terrorism and gathering financial information: Ronald Noble is a former high-ranking counterintelligence official. “It’s irrelevant whether a friend or an enemy informs you about dangerous people,” he constantly repeats in interviews. “America should invest more in the international police force and Interpol,” he wrote in an article in the New York Times. “This is the only path for gathering and analyzing valuable information”.
One gets the impression that Mr. Noble is one of the busiest officials in the world. He constantly signs new agreements on cooperation, sends open letters and writes articles – he uses the carrot and stick approach left, right and center. Vladimir Markin from the Investigatory Committee once more shows dazzling flashes of wit, and proposes for Givi Targamadze to move for good to Micronesia and Tuvalu, to escape from the united actions of the Russian investigation and Interpol – he is absolutely certain of success, for some reason. One month later, Novaya Gazeta publishes an open letter by Noble to President Saakashvili: “The request of the Russian Federation does not comply with the third article of the Constitution… We hope for further productive cooperation on Georgia’s part.” He made the Russians a laughing-stock – and immediately praised them for participation in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers. Humiliation and reward – the small, compact organization does not make it possible to examine criminal cases in detail, but it does make it possible to encourage and punish fickle regimes, while formally being outside politics. This is a large-scale geopolitical game, in which despite all the assurances, fugitive opposition members of all kinds will play an increasingly important role – as figures to be exchanged, of course.
One week ago, the Tverskoy Court in Moscow ordered to put Bill Browder in custody – the prosecutor’s office stubbornly states that it is prepared to send a document for his arrest to Lyon for the second time. In response, Browder threatens to put all his efforts into excluding Russia from Interpol altogether for systematic violations – but I expect that in light of the situation I have described, this will not go beyond a threat. In my opinion, Interpol is not threatened by any reforms. As for myself, I haven’t bought any shares in Gazprom, and generally I prefer to lead a cautious life – yesterday I finally received a letter from the CCF. “We wish to inform you that all the data about your case will henceforth be restricted for all participants of the network”. Thanks for that, at least.