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British citizens file complaint in France against UAE's top Interpol candidate

If authorities proceed, Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, the Emirati official running to head Lyon-based force, could be arrested on French soil
Major General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi is the top law enforcement officer in the UAE (Wikimedia)

A lawyer for two British citizens who were detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates has filed a universal jurisdiction complaint in France against an Emirati official in the running to be the next president of Interpol.

If French authorities proceed with the case, the UAE's candidate, Major General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi - who does not have diplomatic immunity - could be arrested and questioned if he enters French territory, including Lyon, where the international policing body is headquartered.

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The complaint was filed on behalf of Matthew Hedges and Ali Issa Ahmad and holds al-Raisi, the general inspector of the UAE's interior ministry, and six other Emirati officials responsible for the two men's arrests and abuse while in Emirati prisons.

Hedges, a British academic, was arrested during a doctoral research trip to the UAE in May 2018. He was accused of spying for the British government.

Then aged 31, Hedges was held in solitary confinement, tortured and eventually coerced into sign a false confession. After seven months, he was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in November 2018 after the UAE came under international pressure.

Ahmad, who is from Wolverhampton, travelled to the UAE to watch an Asian Cup football match in January 2019, when he was beaten by plain-clothes police officers and detained.

It is thought that he was arrested for wearing the football shirt of UAE's arch-rival Qatar, though the UAE has denied this.

Ahmad, now 28, was detained between 23 January and 12 February 2019, during which time he has said he was subjected to racial and psychological abuse and torture, including being beaten, electrocuted, burned and stabbed. 

He was also released after heavy international attention and after agreeing to pay a fine for "wasting police time".

Condemned at Interpol headquarters

Speaking at a press conference in Lyon on Friday, Hedges said he couldn't believe he had to travel to Interpol headquarters to ensure that one of the officials responsible for his torture did not become its next president. 

"Imagine if the president of Interpol cannot travel to the headquarters because he could be arrested," he said. "It does not feel real and it shows a complete failure of the system."

Ahmad said: "I believe General al-Raisi does not deserve this honour because he failed to even bring his attention to my case. I hold him responsible."

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Also in attendance at the press conference was French MP Hubert Julien-Laferriere, one of 35 MPs to write to French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year asking him to oppose al-Raisi's candidacy.

"Is this really what we want for Interpol?!" Julien-Laferrier tweeted on Friday.

This is the second torture complaint brought against al-Raisi under the principle of universal jurisdiction filed in France this year. In June, a Lebanese human rights advocacy group submitted a complaint on behalf of UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor.

Mansoor, an Emirati engineer and poet, was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison the following year on charges of criticising the UAE authorities and tarnishing the county's image on social media.

He has been held in solitary confinement since March 2017, "without access to a doctor, hygiene, water and sanitary facilities", the complaint filed in Paris reportedly said.

Rodney Dixon QC, who represents Hedges and Ahmad, said: "If states vote for General Raisi to head the international police and ignore the criminal complaints against him, it will make a mockery of the entire international criminal justice system."

Interpol is scheduled to elect its next president in November. Al-Raisi, who is a member of Interpol's executive committee, has said if elected, he would draw on "the UAE's role as a leader in tech-driven policing, and a bridge-builder in the international community".

"I will transform Interpol into a modern, technology-driven organisation, geared to tackling today and tomorrow's challenges head-on," he wrote last month.

MEE has asked the UAE Ministry of Interior for comment.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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