The men, all of whom hail from Iran’s Kurdistan province, came to Sweden as political refugees twenty years ago, the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper reports.
Despite being active critics of the Iranian regime for more than thirty years, the men’s names and pictures only recently appeared on Interpol’s list of wanted fugitives, following a request from Iran.
“I was obviously surprised that Interpol would simply describe us using the same words as the Iranian police. It seems very strange to me,” Khaled Haji Mohammadi, one of the men now labeled as a fugitive by Interpol, told The Local.
Mohammadi is one of twelve members of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran – Hekmatist whose names were posted on the Interpol list.
“I don’t know what sort of political or economic agreement Iran may have with Interpol, but it’s very surprising that Interpol would abide by the demands of a request from a regime that has executed so many of its critics.”
Mohammadi doesn’t deny he has long been critical of the Islamic regime in Iran, which he claims has imprisoned and killed many fellow activists in the years since he left the country to seek political asylum in Sweden.
“I’m used to being harassed and criticized by the Islamic regime in Iran,” he said.
But Interpol’s decision to agree to Iran’s request to list him and his colleagues as organized criminals and terrorists left him puzzled.
While Mohammadi has no plans to back down from supporting human and workers’ rights in Iran, he remains concerned that by enlisting a respected international policing body, Iran may add legitimacy to its claims.
“Obviously it’s a problem because it’s Interpol,” he said.
“No one cares what Iran says, but if it’s on Interpol, that’s something different.”
Mohammadi has long been in the crosshairs of the Iranian authorities, having supported a number of pro-human rights campaigns over the years, most recently spearheading a campaign to support student demonstrators who clashed with authorities in 2007.
He suspects that the regime in Iran, under mounting pressure from demonstrators within the country, sees Interpol warrants as a new avenue for silencing its critics.
“One way they think they can stop demonstrations in Iran is to target well known activists,” Mohammadi explained.
“If the Iranian regime succeeds in doing something against such popular rights activists, then perhaps the people fighting for freedom in Iran will get scared.”
He also wondered why Iran chose him and his colleagues to appear on Interpol’s wanted list.
“I’m not exactly sure why they chose us here in Sweden. There are critics of the regime in Iran in a number of western countries,” he said.
“I guess they had to start somewhere.”
If Iran succeeds in extraditing any of the men currently listed on Interpol’s list, Mohammadi fears it may embolden the regime to put more names up the list.
“At this point, Interpol is responsible for what happens next,” he said, adding that he remains skeptical that any extraditions will actually take place
“I think people and authorities around the world are smarter than that,” he said.
So far Swedish authorities have not acted on the warrants.
According to chief public prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand, simply issuing a warrant isn’t enough to justify launching an investigation, explaining that his office would only get involved if Swedish police believe the country issuing the warrant has enough evidence to prove the case is worth pursuing.
“Then we’ll see what the Iranians want. It’s usually the case that to get people extradited to sue them, or in a request for legal assistance, that we question the people involved and so on,” he told DN.
Arezo Julie Jacobsson, a lawyer leading efforts to help Mohammadi and his colleagues clear their names, also believed Iran’s decision to issue warrants was a scare tactic meant to silence its critics.
She too was critical of Interpol for publishing the men’s names at Iran’s request and vowed to explore all available legal options to have the names removed.
“They feel offended and want to do everything they can to fix this,” she told DN.
Mohammadi said it would likely “take some time” but is hopeful his name will eventually be removed from the Interpol wanted list.
In the meantime, he has no plans for cutting back on his efforts supporting Iranian activists fighting for their rights.
“I’ve been active and will continue to be active defending human rights in Iran,” he said.
In an open letter to Interpol dated December 21st, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran – Hekmatist said it was shocked by the inclusion on Interpol’s list of members who were “all veteran and popular political activists and respected figures within the Iranian opposition movement.
“They are all recognised political refugees and are engaged in open, public and transparent political activities against the Iranian government. […] We believe you should remove this list and your call immediately,” the party wrote.