Interpol elects UAE official as president and ignores protests from rights groups

Raisi, who has been part of the UAE’s police force since 1980 and serves as Inspector General at the country’s Interior Ministry, received 68.9% of the vote at Interpol’s General Assembly in Istanbul. The role is largely ceremonial – he will chair the General Assembly as well as three meetings of the Executive Committee for each of the four years of his term.

The vote went through despite criminal cases committed by former prisoners. Matthew Hedges, who was detained in the United Arab Emirates for seven months, filed a claim for damages in London’s Supreme Court against Raisi and several other high-ranking Emirati officials. He accused them of assault, torture and false prisons.

Hedges returned to the UK in November 2018 after being pardoned from a life sentence for espionage. The United Arab Emirates had released a video depicting him apparently acknowledging that he was a member of the British intelligence service MI6.

“The inevitable election of Raisi to the Interpol presidency is a serious attack on the values ​​it stands for,” Hedges said in a tweet on Thursday. “His involvement in systematic torture and abuse is legitimized by Interpol and gives the green light to other authoritarian states to act with impunity.”

The United Arab Emirates has denied allegations that Hedges was physically or mentally abused during his detention.

Hedges said this week that he and another ex-prisoner, Ali Issa Ahmad, also brought a criminal case with Turkish prosecutors. Ahmad, 29, said he was imprisoned in 2019 during a holiday in the United Arab Emirates because he wore a T-shirt with the Qatari flag during the diplomatic quarrel between the two countries. He said he received electricity and was beaten, as well as deprived of food, water and sleep.

Ahmad was in the country and participated in the Asia Cup.

The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement that “all legal complaints that can be filed with accusations against al-Raisi are without merit and will be rejected.”

“He is convinced that the police’s abuse or mistreatment of people is abhorrent and unbearable,” the statement said.

At the same time, Raisi has promised to build a “more transparent, versatile and determined” Interpol.

“I am delighted to have been elected President today, and it is the honor of my career to serve citizens around the world, on behalf of the United Arab Emirates,” Raisi said in a statement.

The election has been postponed by one year due to the pandemic. In October 2020, 19 human rights groups criticized Raisi’s candidacy for president of Interpol, saying his presidency would “undermine both Interpol’s mission and reputation and seriously affect the organization’s ability to carry out its mission effectively and in good faith.”

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