STOCKHOLM A Turkish journalist living in Sweden Bülent Kenes received mail from the Swedish security police Säpo last February.
In the letter, he was invited to the police because Turkey demands his extradition. Turkey accuses Keneş of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.
After the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May announced his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the Turkish government media published the first list of so-called terrorists who should be handed over as a condition for the countries’ NATO membership.
Keneş’s name appeared on the list with the picture.
In a list published in May by the Turkish government-supporting A-Haber television channel, Bülent Keneş was characterized as a central figure of the Fetö terrorist organization.
Fetö is the Turkish authorities’ name preacher by Fethullah Gülen followers. Gülen was long an ally of Erdoğan, but now the men are enemies and Gülen is accused of the 2016 coup attempt.
– I would have hoped that Sweden would not take into account the accusations made by Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime, but this started a process that is still ongoing, Keneş tells in a suburb north of Stockholm.
From journalist to usurper in the eyes of the authorities
Keneş has a long career as a journalist in various media. He has worked, among other things, at the Turkish state news agency Anatolia.
But Turkish officials are convinced that a leadership position at Zaman, a newspaper close to the Gülen movement, makes him a terrorist and a coup plotter.
– As a journalist, I wouldn’t have any resources to organize a coup. Everything I’ve done is publicly available. I’ve never picked up a gun.
Keneş was responsible for the English edition of Zaman. Before the coup accusations, he was the subject of several other lawsuits. Among other things, he was arrested for defaming the Turkish president. In present-day Turkey, thousands of people have been prosecuted for the same crimes.
Keneş fled Turkey in August 2016 across the border river between Turkey and Greece with the help of the Gülen movement network. He has received asylum in Sweden, but the request for extradition has brought back unpleasant memories.
– For this issue to come up in the public eye, it is miserable for my family and my relatives living in Turkey, Keneş says.
Bülent Keneş considers it unlikely that he would be extradited to Turkey – he trusts the Swedish justice system.
“It’s about harassment”
A Turkish publisher who lived in Sweden for years Raqip Zarakolu doesn’t seem particularly worried either.
– This is a political issue, it’s about harassment. I am a human rights activist and I have long spoken about both Kurdish rights and the 1915 Armenian genocide, Zarakolu says in Stockholm.
He has a thick folder with him, which contains a small part of the material related to his lawsuits.
Dozens of charges have been brought against him in Turkey, related to the Kurdish question and books about the fate of Armenians.
Ragip Zarakolu has also annoyed the Turkish authorities by bringing an exhibition presenting books banned in Turkey to international book fairs such as Frankfurt and Gothenburg.
He has Swedish citizenship, so extradition is impossible according to Swedish law.
In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected Turkey’s previous extradition request for Zarakolu, but Turkey is still banging its head against the wall with a new request, which is now linked to Sweden’s NATO membership.
Internet disturbances regarding the president
Zarakolu says that the last time was unpleasant, because the army of social media troublemakers supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was foisted on him. Zarakolu was threatened and the threateners also made it clear that they know where he lives.
However, it has been quiet now.
– Maybe even these hooligans think that this is already an old thing, Zarakolu says amused.
The easy-going 74-year-old does not remind one of a terrorist. In its extradition request, Turkey has registered Zarakolu’s crimes as supporting a pro-Kurdish newspaper and participating in the event of a pro-Kurdish party.
There are at least 21 people in Sweden whom Turkey demands to be extradited.
Turkey’s information acquisition is apparently a bit incomplete. Among the first names published by the Turkish media was also a man who had already died years before.
In addition, both Finland and Sweden are required to hand over their own citizens to Turkey. That would be illegal.
It has been reported publicly that Turkey is demanding the extradition of 12 people from Finland. But the exact numbers are unclear. The Turkish Ministry of Justice talks about a total of 33 people, but according to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there are 73 extraditable people in Sweden alone.
Erdoğan has criticized Sweden particularly harshly for “protecting terrorists”. During the NATO process, Finland has received more moderate criticism from Turkey.
“The president needs controversy”
According to Raqip Zarakolu, Erdoğan, who is struggling with a failing economy and declining support, is trying to increase his support among nationalist Turks by increasing tensions.
There is a tense situation between Turkey and Greece and the demands related to the NATO issue are also part of Erdoğan’s attempt to show himself as a strong leader, Zarakolu reflects.
According to journalist Bülent Keneş, Erdoğan is trying to take advantage of the NATO process to force Finland and Sweden to apply the methods of his authoritarian regime.
– Normally, NATO, the EU and other Western countries pressure leaders like Erdoğan towards democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Now things have turned upside down. It’s quite shocking, Keneş thinks.
According to him, there is an important test ahead, where we will see how Finland and Sweden stick to their values.
Intelligence cooperation is doubtful
According to Bülent Keneş, there is one particularly worrying point in the Madrid memorandum signed by Sweden, Finland and Turkey. It concerns intelligence cooperation.
“Intelligence cooperation could form the basis for shady dealings outside the control of the rule of law,” Keneş estimates.
According to him, this issue worries many of Erdogan’s opponents.
It is known that the Turkish intelligence service has abducted people defined by Turkey as terrorists from Kosovo and Central Asia, among other places.
This has been a matter of pride for Turkey, and the Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag boasted some years ago how the intelligence service “packages” (you switch to another service) people and bring them back to Turkey.
Finland and Sweden in a difficult position
There may also be problems with legal handovers.
Council of Europe (you will switch to another service)according to human rights organizations and opponents of the regime, the Turkish judicial system has lost its independence and obeys the president.
– No one knows what would happen to those to be extradited. Unfortunately, Turkish citizens have no security. Our president reacted with emotion. If he gets angry with someone, the situation is very unpredictable, publisher Ragip Zarakolu thinks.
The extradition issue is difficult for both Finland and Sweden, because it seems impossible to agree to Turkey’s demands without violating the principles of the rule of law and international agreements.
However, the problem does not go away from the agenda. Turkey has already reminded you (you will switch to another service) Sweden’s future government that the matters agreed in Madrid must be adhered to.
Such is the document signed by Finland, Sweden and Turkey, which opened the NATO jam – read it here
Analysis: Turkey demanded that Finland reevaluate extradition decisions, but the rule of law’s hands are tied and bending is illegal
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