Does Interpol have to help Egypt arrest Terry Jones?

Egypt has charged Florida’s most famous hate-mongering, Quran-burning preacher Terry Jones and seven Coptic Christians living in the United States with insulting Islam in connection with their promotion of the now-infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video. CNN reports: In addition to charges of insulting the Islamic religion, insulting Mohammed and inciting sectarian strife, all eight are ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Egypt has charged Florida's most famous hate-mongering, Quran-burning preacher Terry Jones and seven Coptic Christians living in the United States with insulting Islam in connection with their promotion of the now-infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video. CNN reports:

In addition to charges of insulting the Islamic religion, insulting Mohammed and inciting sectarian strife, all eight are charged with harming national unity and spreading false information, according to Adel Saaed, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

Egyptian authorities added the names to their airport watch list.

Egypt has charged Florida’s most famous hate-mongering, Quran-burning preacher Terry Jones and seven Coptic Christians living in the United States with insulting Islam in connection with their promotion of the now-infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video. CNN reports:

In addition to charges of insulting the Islamic religion, insulting Mohammed and inciting sectarian strife, all eight are charged with harming national unity and spreading false information, according to Adel Saaed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.

Egyptian authorities added the names to their airport watch list.

Prosecutors said they will ask the international police agency, Interpol, to add the names to its wanted lists. U.S. authorities would also be contacted, according to prosecutors.

Could Interpol actually comply with Egypt’s request to "red list" these individuals?  It seems pretty unlikely. According to Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution, "It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."

The issue of blasphemy actually came up for the organization earlier this year. In January, Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year old blogger and journalist, was arrested in Malaysia and deported back to his home country of Saudi Arabia for a tweet deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed. 

The Kuala Lumpur police initially reported that Kashgari was detained "following a request made to us by Interpol".  However, the 190-country police organization strongly denied any involvement in the case: 

A statement issued by the agency said: "The assertion that Saudi Arabia used Interpol’s system in this case is wholly misleading and erroneous."

Interpol, the statement said, "has not been involved in the case involving a Saudi blogger arrested in Malaysia and deported to Saudi Arabia. No Interpol channels, its National Central Bureaus in Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh nor its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France were involved at any time in this case."

There doesn’t seem to have been any evidence uncovered to refute Interpol’s statement, but nonetheless, this case and some other unsubstantiated rumors have earned the organization a reputation as a tool of "global sharia enforcement" on some anti-Islam blogs.  

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik also claimed on Twitter last week to have spoken with the secretary general of Interpol about trying to "enact international law to stop anti Islam material from being projected on the Internet," which seems to indicate that he doesn’t really understand what Interpol is. It’s a police coordinating agency, not a global legislature with the power to enact law.

This is not to say that there are no legitimate concerns about Interpol’s adherence to its own neutrality rules. The agency was criticized in 2009 for  red-listing a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army after a request by Serbia, as well as opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But in this case, as long as Jones stays in Florida, he’s probably safe from the long arm of Islamic law. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Egypt

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