Is Interpol being abused to return Saudi Christian convert from Sweden?


By Elizabeth Kendal

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

If a 2 September report in the Saudi Gazette is true, then it may well be the first time Interpol as been abused by an Islamic State for the purpose of retrieving an apostate.

On 28 July 2012, the Saudi Gazette reported: “A Saudi girl who recently embraced Christianity and fled the country for refuge in Lebanon told the host of a religious program on an Arabic TV channel that she was tired of performing prayers and fasting during Ramadan.

“The girl, who said her name was Maryam, said praying and fasting did not bring her any benefits. She also criticized the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) and claimed that she was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity but fell in love with the religions after she found peace in Christianity.

“She said she became a Christian after she had a dream one night. In it, she climbed to the skies and heard God telling her that Jesus is His son.”

According to reports, Maryam (28), was working in an insurance firm in Al-Khobar when she became interested in Chri stianity through the influence of her Christian boss, Lebanese expatriate Henna Sarkees (50). An unnamed male Saudi national with links to the firm then secured false travel documents that allowed Maryam to leave the country for Lebanon, then for Sweden.

Henna Sarkees and the unnamed Saudi national will stand trial on Saturday 15 September in Al-Khobar, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Maryam’s family have charged the two men with coercing Maryam into converting to Christianity and then helping her leave the country without the consent of her male guardian. They have suggested it may all be part of a conspiracy to get their daughter into the hands of international people-traffickers.

Saudi media asserts that Maryam regrets her conversion, maintains she is still Muslim, denies ever talking to Arabic TV, desires to return home and accuses Christians of taking her to Sweden against her will.

On 2 September, the following news report appeared in the Saudi Gazette: (copied in full, emphasis mine)

Efforts on to bring back ‘Al-Khobar girl’ from Sweden
Sunday, September 02, 2012
AL-KHOBAR -The Al-Khobar girl who fled the Kingdom after allegedly converting to Christianity will be brought home from Sweden in a matter of few days, Al-Yaum newspaper reported Saturday quoting informed sources.

The Interpol is coordinating with the Saudi Embassy in Stockholm and Swedish authorities to return the girl to her homeland before her ‘kidnappers’ move her to another country, the sources said.

The girl’s father received phone calls from unknown people who threatened to kill his daughter or move her to another European country if the main suspect in her case, a Lebanese man named Henna Sarkess, was not released from jail in the Kingdom.

Sources said it is highly likely that a global human trafficking network was involved in the kidnapping of the girl, who was persuaded by her Lebanese manager to embrace Christianity and leave the country without the knowledge of her family.

A Saudi was arrested for faking a travel permit, which the girl used to leave the Kingdom and go to Lebanon. There, she stayed with a Christian group inside a church for a while. When she told the group that she wanted to return to the Kingdom and that she regretted what she had done, the group decided to take her to Sweden because it did not want her to return to the Kingdom.

The girl’s father has called upon the authorities to help him bring back his daughter. He said his daughter still talks to them over the phone and she is currently in Sweden. The father is worried that his daughter might get brainwashed.

The Saudi Embassy in Stockholm said it received a letter from the girl’s father requesting it to help her return to the Kingdom. The [Saudi] embassy has started a search with the Swedish authorities.



The information in this section of the posting has mostly been gleaned from the following sources:

Interpol’s Red Notices Used by Some to Pursue Political Dissenters, Opponents.
Investigative report by Libby Lewis, for The Cutting Edg e, 25 July 2011
Journal article (91 pages) by Mario Savino, March 2010
Journal of International Law and Politics, New York University
The website of Fair Trials International / Interpol
Interpol’s official website

With 190 member countries, Interpol is the world’s second largest international entity after the United Nations. As in the United Nations, Interpol’s member countries span from totalitarian dictatorship to liberal democracies. While Interpol possesses many attributes of an international organisation, many would say it is really more of an international network, linking police globally for the purpose of facilitating police cooperation and law enforcement across the globe.


Interpol operates “a closed communications system linking police via vast international databases” (Lewis). Normally, police in member countries send Interpol a domestic arrest notice, which Interpol then sends out as a global Red Notice. On the basis of a Red Notice, police in other member countries may arrest suspects for extradition.

While Interpol’s Constitution mandates neutrality and prohibits “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” cooperation is based on trust — i.e. Interpol trusts member countries not to abuse the system.


While Interpol has doubtless made the world a safer place by facilitating the arrest of numerous transnational terrorists, traffickers and other criminals, there is nothing to prevent human rights-abusing, non-free, totalitarian states from abusing the system and using Interpol to extend their own repressive arms internationally. Indeed, dictatorial regimes have been known to abuse the system and use it to track down and capture, or even just drive underground, their most troublesome dissidents.

And because Interpol is neither transparent nor accountable, it is extremely easy to abuse.

“Interpol is not entrusted with any significant investigative or operational powers. Those powers are still located at national level. . . Interpol’s core business is the administration of information.” (Savino, p26)

Fair Trials International reports: “Even though some of Interpol’s member countries are known human rights abusers and notoriously corrupt, Interpol has no effective mechanisms to prevent countries, or even individual prosecutors, abusing the red notice system. As a result, even though most red notices may be perfectly valid, abuses of Interpol are also affecting human ri ghts campaigners, journalists and businessmen, in countries all over the world.

“People in this situation have no independent court they can turn to for redress. Your only option is to request a review by a Commission, funded by Interpol and serviced by Interpol staff. You have no right to a hearing, no opportunity to respond to allegations against you and will be given no reasons for the decision reached. Even if the Commission concludes that a red notice is inaccurate or abusive, it cannot require its removal or amendment. It can only make non-binding recommendations.”

According to Interpol’s Chief Lawyer, Joël Sollier, the agency does try to ferret out dubious requests. His instruction to Interpol is that a Red Notice should be cancelled if there is any doubt. (Lewis)

According to Lewis, Interpol’s issuance of Red Notices has increased markedly in recent years, from 2,343 Red Notices in 2005, to 6,344 in 2010. “Partly to deal with that increased workload, Interpol is putting more power into the hands of its po lice members.

“Two years ago,” writes Lewis, “police had to apply directly to Interpol for a Red Notice. Today, every Red Notice request is entered into the system directly by the police themselves-not by Interpol. Police around the world instantly see those notices-before Interpol even reviews them.

“Police can also bypass the formal Red Notice system altogether-and just type an informal notice of arrest in an email-and post it on Interpol’s communications system. Those email notices-Interpol calls them ‘diffusions’-go out instantly, with no automatic Interpol review.”

And as Lewis notes, “these informal email notices are linked to far more arrests than arrests linked to the Red Notices Interpol vets for political concerns”. In fact, according to Lewis, in 2010, at least 1,858 arrests were made of people named in email notices while only 663 arrests were made of people named in Red Notices.

This might explain why in February of this year, while Malaysian police were claiming that they had arrested the < span style=”font-weight: bold;”>Saudi tweeter Hamza Kashgari (23) “following a request made to us by Interpol” on behalf of the Saudi authorities, Interpol was strongly denying that it had anything to do with it.

See: Interpol accused after Malaysia arrests journalist over Muhammad tweet
Police agency strongly denies its system used by Saudi Arabia to get journalist detained for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter
By Own Bowcott, The Guardian, 10 February 2012

Kashgari had fled Saudi Arabia after his tweeted imaginary conversation with the prophet Mohammad was deemed blasphemous. After being arrested in Malaysia and extradited, he was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. He remains in prison to this day, still offering up apologies, but to no avail. Voices are stil l calling for him to be executed.
There have also been some really obvious and undeniable abuses of Interpol.

One such case involves Indonesia’s call for a Red Notice to be issued against Papuan independence advocate Benny Wenda (36). The Red Notice was issued despite the fact that the persecuted, tortured, now Oxford-based Wenda had been granted asylum in the UK. Only in August of this year was the Red Notice against Wenda dropped.

See: Benny Wenda’s plight has highlighted the misuse of Interpol
Interpol must act to stop its red notice system being abused by countries to persecute refugees and exiled political activists
By Alex Tinsley, The Guardian, 6 Aug 2012.

In an article published by CNN, Libby Lewis raises the case of Iranian dissident Shahram Homayoun (57). “After fleeing Iran in 1992 and moving to Los Angeles, Homayoun started a satellite television station, Channel One, to beam a message of civil resistance into the homes of Iranians.

“Over the years, his audience has scribbled his slogan, Ma Hastim (“We exist” in Farsi) on Iranian walls and bridges to promote democracy in the country. He has also called on his listeners to show their solidarity in creative ways, such as gathering at the tomb of Cyrus the Great or showing up at their local bakery on the same day — every Thursday — and asking for bread.

“At the request of Iran, which charged Homayoun with inciting terrorism, Interpol issued a Red Notice in December 2009 requesting Homayoun’s arrest.”

Regarding Maryam, all the Saudi authorities would have had to do was to report through Interpol channels that a Saudi Arabian girl is being held in Sweden against her will, possibly by interna tional traffickers, and request help to retrieve her and return her to her family. And with that, her hopes of liberty are dashed.


As I said in my opening remarks, if the 2 Sept 2012 report in the Saudi Gazette is true, then it may well be the first time Interpol has been abused by an Islamic State for the purpose of retrieving an apostate.

In the past, Islamic states have generally been content to let apostates flee, for at least then they are not be around to spread fitna (temptation / doubt) amongst the locals. However, in these days of global communications — satellite TV, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc — the apostate can generate far more fitna from a safe-haven in the West than they ever could at home. And “fitna is worse than killing”. (Qur’an Sura 2:191)

Christian advocacy groups that have exc elled at speaking into political power must quickly learn how to speak into international law enforcement so that Interpol or national police forces do not become unwitting extensions of Islamic religious police.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This article is an edited version of a posting written for her blog: Religious Liberty Monitoring .