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The Guardian: Illegal Extradition of Bahraini Dissident from Serbia Calls Interpol's Role into Question

2022-02-16 - 4:26 p

Bahrain Mirror: The Guardian newspaper said that "Ahmed Jaafar's case shows how anti-democratic regimes are increasingly able to target exiled dissidents, exporting their domestic crackdown on dissent. His extradition also provoked questions about the role of Interpol, amid mounting concerns about abuse of the policing organization's "red notice" system intended to flag criminals overseas." It added "The high-profile extradition also represents the first case of its kind under the Interpol presidency of Emirati security official Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi, accused of involvement in torture by former detainees."

Marko Štambuk, Jaafar's lawyer, arrived at Belgrade district prison on a Monday morning in late January, only to be told his client was no longer inside. "Immediately I knew something had happened," he said.

Štambuk discovered that two Serbian police officers had taken Ahmed Jaafar from the prison to Belgrade airport that morning at 4am, and handed him to Bahraini officials on the tarmac. Just after 5am, he was flown directly to Manama on a charter flight operated by Royal Jet, a luxury airline headed by a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family and part-owned by Presidential Flight, the company responsible for transporting members of the Abu Dhabi government.

"The shock was intense," said Štambuk, taken aback by Serbia's decision to go ahead with the extradition. "He was sent back to Bahrain, I don't know what will happen to him. If he's sentenced to life in prison again, I don't assume he will survive for much longer," he said.

"The red notice was the starting point for him, for this entire story," said Štambuk. "I absolutely believe that the [Serbian] government resolves extradition cases in different ways depending on which countries they're working with, and not thinking about the life of the person involved," said Sonja Tošković of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, who pointed to multiple international conventions banning extradition to countries where detainees risk abuse. "You're playing with human life. It's devastating," she said.

"In a clear effort to legitimize this illegal extradition, Bahrain has portrayed this as a cooperative operation with Interpol. This is a serious manipulation and abuse of international policing, which has destroyed the life of a dissident. This case is indicative of the inherently flawed nature of Interpol's broken red notice system which has for too long been left vulnerable and open to abuse," said Sayed Al-Wadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

"Serbia and Interpol have effectively destroyed Ahmed's life with this illegal extradition," said Al-Wadaei. "They acted in clear violation of international laws. Serbia breached its international obligations. Once more, Interpol has allowed itself to be abused by an authoritarian regime."

The Guardian understands that the judge overseeing Ali's case received a call from the Serbian interior ministry the day before his extradition. An interior ministry official told the judge that Interpol understood a temporary injunction had been issued by the European Court of Human Rights, intended to stall Ali's extradition until late February. The interior ministry official wanted to know how to proceed with the case, and whether they had permission to remove Ali from prison in Belgrade.

The judge penned a memo to transfer the decision about whether to extradite Ali to the justice ministry, in line with procedure. Time was of the essence: the private jet to collect Ali had landed at Belgrade seven minutes before the judge received the call, having left Abu Dhabi for Manama and flown to Belgrade the same day.

Bahrain considered Ali a high-value suspect, convicting him in absentia on three separate counts of terrorism in 2013 and 2015. Ali, a labour activist, insisted he was innocent in a letter to a Serbian court, writing that he could prove that he was not in Bahrain at the time the alleged offences occurred. "I don't have any relation [sic] with the case," he pleaded.

Bahrain's interior ministry described Ali's capture from Serbia as a "joint operation", with Interpol, while its public prosecution later said that Ali was "extradited from Serbia with the help of Interpol".

A coalition of rights groups also wrote to Royal Jet to demand answers about why it had allowed airline to be used to extradite a dissident. The Serbian justice ministry, the UAE foreign ministry and Royal Jet did not respond to requests for comment.

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