Turkish justice minister returns empty-handed as US is noncommittal on Gülen’s extradition

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Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ leaves after holding a press conference at the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC, on October 27, 2016.

Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has returned to Turkey empty-handed as his counterpart, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, did not offer any opinions for or against the extradition of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government accuses of masterminding a failed coup on July 15.

Speaking to reporters at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Thursday along with Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç, Bozdağ described his meeting with Lynch as “fruitful,” saying it helped the two sides better understand each other’s positions. But he also told reporters that Lynch expressed neither support nor opposition to Turkey’s request that the United States extradite Gülen.

A statement from the US Department of Justice on Lynch’s meeting with Bozdağ also said on Thursday that the two counterparts discussed law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Turkey, including cooperation on extraditions.

In particular, the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice discussed that, pursuant to the U.S./Turkey Extradition Treaty, in both countries extraditions are subject to the judicial process, and accordingly must meet the evidentiary standards of the requested country. The Attorney General and the Minister of Justice both pledged that their departments will continue their ongoing close and full cooperation,” the statement said.

Although Bozdağ has repeatedly claimed that Turkey has submitted evidence of coup plotting by Gülen and demanded his provisional arrest, no US institution has confirmed his statements.

The Turkish government has been using the issue of its request for Gülen’s extradition from the US as a domestic political tool to mobilize its constituency in the absence of any credible evidence submitted to the US.

Bozdağ stated again on Thursday that if the US does not extradite Gülen, Turkish-US relations would be damaged.

Turkish authorities claim Gülen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, was the mastermind behind the violent coup attempt that killed over 240 people and injured a thousand others on July 15, while Gülen strongly denies any involvement.

The Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have designated the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Gülen and operating charities, schools and businesses around the world, as a terrorist organization and have launched a widespread crackdown on suspected members since the failed coup. More than 110,000 have been dismissed from state jobs, close to 73,000 detained and over 32,000 arrested by Turkey over links to Gülen.

Gülen called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

While Erdoğan and the Turkish government have demanded Gülen’s extradition from the US and shut down schools linked with the movement, US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have several times said that it is the US courts that will decide on Gülen’s extradition if a case is filed against him with concrete evidence that demonstrates his involvement in a crime.

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