Interpol arrest warrant allegedly targeting Kuwaiti princess and partner ‘on political grounds’

Mesaed al-Mesaileem and Sheikha Moneera Fahad al-Sabah. The couple have been publicly critical of the Kuwait state on social media

Originally posted to the Guardian website, 3 March 2022

Dissident couple say their lives would be under threat if returned from Bosnia to Kuwait, as rights groups claim notice undermines refugee law

A Kuwaiti princess seeking asylum in Bosnia-Herzegovina has claimed the Kuwaiti state is using an Interpol red notice to intimidate and harass her and force the extradition of her partner, a prominent dissident blogger, back to the country.

Sheikha Moneera Fahad al-Sabah and Mesaed al-Mesaileem, said they face torture and threats to their lives if they are returned to Kuwait due to their political activism.

Kuwait has secured an Interpol red notice for Mesaileem – which acts as an international arrest warrant – and which the couple’s lawyer claims has likely been issued under false pretences.

“States with poor human rights records are increasingly requesting extradition on the basis of political grounds,” said Alexis Thiry, legal adviser at Mena Rights Group, a Switzerland-based NGO that is providing legal representation to Mesaileem.

“This is a very concerning development from a human rights perspective because such practice undermines the principle of non-refoulement, a rule of international customary law.”

Non-refoulement is the fundamental principle underpinning international refugee law, that maintains that a person requiring protection cannot be forcibly returned to a place where they will face harm.

The UN human rights council has said it is “deeply concerned” by the risk of Mesaileem’s extradition back to Kuwait.

Both Sabah and Mesaileem have been publicly critical of the Kuwait state on social media, with Sabah alleging corruption in Kuwait’s ruling family.

Sabah’s great uncle is Kuwait’s ruler, Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who came to power in September 2020. She is the granddaughter of Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the previous Kuwaiti emir.

Sabah told the Guardian she had received multiple threats to her safety from her family and other powerful figures in Kuwait.

“They’re going to kill me. They’ve raised some [legal] cases in Kuwait against me for assaulting the being of the royal family,” said Sabah, 35, who said she was imprisoned by her father for nearly a year.

“When I first started speaking about corruption, they accused me of being mentally ill, and said I need to be in an institute. So, I’m scared they will lock me up, take my phones away, not let me speak because I have a lot of secrets.”

The couple, who moved to Bosnia in 2020, have both surrendered their passports and been issued with yellow asylum seeker cards by the UN high commissioner for refugees.

However, their asylum claim has not been granted by the Bosnian government, leaving them in legal limbo with the threat that deportation could happen at any time.

The couple claim that men identifying themselves as Interpol officers raided their home in April 2020, saying they were acting on a red notice issued two years previously on charges relating to possession of weapons.

However, Mena Rights Group argues that the basis of the red notice is false, and that it is being used to bring Mesaileem back to Kuwait to face political charges.

Mesaileem has been sentenced multiple times in Kuwait on charges linked to freedom of expression, including using his mobile phone to organise demonstrations and insulting the emir on social media.

In total, Kuwaiti courts have sentenced Mesaileem in absentia to 87 years in prison for his political activities, according to a UN special procedures letter. He has already spent periods in detention, where he claims he was mistreated.

Concerns about abuses of Interpol notices by authoritarian regimes to snare dissidents have grown since Maj Gen Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, a leading security official from the United Arab Emirates, was elected to its presidency in November.

Sabah and Mesaileem said they fear that pressure from the Kuwaiti state will see them deported and have called for Mesaileem to be removed from the Interpol red notice list.

When contacted for comment, an Interpol spokesperson said the decisions over arrests and extraditions are the responsibility of each of its member states’ domestic authorities, known as National Central Bureaus (NCBs).

“Red notices are requests to law enforcement worldwide to locate and, in accordance with national laws, provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action,” the spokesperson said.

“Interpol’s General Secretariat cannot instruct NCBs on whether to arrest an individual or refrain from doing so, or whether to engage in extradition proceedings, etc. Such decisions are exclusively within the discretion of the competent national authorities of member countries.”

The Bosnian and Kuwaiti authorities were approached for comment.

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