Brit/Australian detained in Prague, faces extradition to Qatar after Interpol Red Notice for credit
Alan Stephenson. Jailed in hellish conditions over late credit card payment
Since the beginning of June, British-Australian national Alan Stevenson has been living a nightmare. Stopped in the Prague airport while en route to visit his ailing mother in the UK, Alan was informed that his name was listed on Interpol, and he was abruptly arrested and thrown into prison.
Like so many other Westerners, Alan had been reported to Interpol by Qatar over an outstanding credit card debt stemming from his brief stay in the Gulf nation 6 years ago. “Interpol is not supposed to issue Red Notices for civil financial matters,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and adviser to the Washington DC based Working Group on Interpol Abuse. “Qatar has overtaken the UAE as the top abuser of the Interpol system; habitually using the international police organisation as a debt collection agency.”
Happier times. Keen photographer Alan relaxing on a nature hike
Alan has been detained in Prague’s notorious Pankrac Remand prison, an imposing century-old maximum security facility where inmates awaiting trial are kept in 23 hour a day lock down without access to warm water or electricity. Human rights activists have criticised conditions in the prison as grossly inhumane, overcrowded, unsanitary, and brutal; particularly for prisoners awaiting sentencing. Since his arrest, Alan’s health has deteriorated and he has lost over 10kg.
Quiet and unassuming. The Brit/Australian is missed by everyone who knows him
The Manchester native, who loves sports, with a particular talent for golf, has traveled extensively, and found a good job in Qatar as an IT manager back in 2013. To support himself while setting up for a life in Doha, Alan opened a bank account, with an accompanying credit card. The bank required him to submit a blank cheque as collateral against the card, to be used to cover any potential unpaid balance if he ever failed to pay. When his mother became ill back in the UK, Alan was forced to return home. Though he notified the bank at the time, and sought to negotiate a payment plan; the bank cashed the blank cheque to cover his credit card bill, and it bounced. Alan was convicted in absentia over the cheque, and reported to Interpol as a fugitive.
“We have seen many alarming cases recently,” says Stirling, “Including a British citizen literally boxed in by police vehicles on his way home in England because of a debt-related Red Notice from Qatar. The UK generally refuses to consider extradition to the Gulf States due to human rights concerns; but these cases should never even reach that stage. Interpol should not be accepting Red Notice requests that relate to private financial matters. It is outrageous that Alan has been arrested in Prague and faces possible extradition. He is being held in horrendous conditions in an archaic jail, over a debt he was in the process of negotiating. If Interpol is going to continue allowing this abuse of their system, governments worldwide are going to have to stop treating Notices as credible if they originate from the Gulf, to ensure that innocent people like Alan are not abused.”
Alan’s family have been in touch with both the British and Australian embassies in the Czech Republic, and been told that his case is being reviewed. “As bad as conditions are for Alan now; cramped in an overcrowded cell with other inmates, mixed in with those accused of violent crimes, severely limited phone access, and only an hour a day out of his cell; if he is extradited to Qatar, he could face an even worse situation,” Stirling warns. “Human rights abuses in detention are well documented in Qatar, and we already have a number of ongoing cases of Western clients unjustly convicted and suffering deplorable conditions in the Doha prison system.”
Alan’s sister, Jennifer Small, says the family is at wit’s end, “Alan is my only brother, our mother is unwell, and we are worried sick about what he is enduring, and what might happen next. I can’t believe someone can be treated like a criminal fugitive in 2019 because of a late credit card payment! We just want him free and safe, he is wasting away in that jail for no reason; it is heartbreaking.”
Local lawyers have advised Stirling that proceedings could extend to over a year and that bail was extremely unlikely for a foreign national. Stirling will provide Expert Testimony to the Czech courts. “Last year, we had a British national detained in Mallorca, Spain even though he was in active contact with the bank and seeking to resolve a settlement. I recently met with an Irish national who was arrested in Spain who underwent formal extradition proceedings. Of course, Spain denied Qatar’s extradition request, but the impact on his life and business was substantial and the Interpol Red Notice is not automatically removed as part of the court process, so until removed, he could technically face re-arrest. Although debt is not a crime in Europe, Qatar is using the Interpol system to pressure debtors and their families under the threat of at least temporary imprisonment. The banks feel that if they can jail a debtor, their family is more likely to step in and raise the funds somehow,” said Stirling.
Qatar has acted more aggressively than the UAE with Interpol over the past 12 months. Interpol do not suspend or discipline countries who consistently practice Interpol Abuse.