UK lawyer briefly under arrest over Turkish extradition request alleging Gülen links

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Özcan Keleş, a British lawyer, was arrested on Monday and is facing possible extradition to Turkey on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt in July 2016, according to British newspaper The Guardian.

Keleş, who is of Turkish descent and holds UK citizenship, appeared at the Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday accused of spreading propaganda online.

He was subsequently released on bail by the court.

Keleş tweeted on Tuesday that he was deeply offended by the treatment he received from British authorities at the time of his detention on Monday.

“Turkish government is seeking my extradition from UK. I am a British citizen, born and raised here. Charge? Propaganda and membership of a terrorist organization. Home Office certified request. Was arrested, cuffed, held in a cell etc. I am deeply offended. Free speech? No, there is a cost.”

Keleş, who is working on a Ph.D. in the sociology of human rights at Sussex University, is a non-practicing barrister and a member of Gray’s Inn. In 2016, as chairman of the Dialogue Society, he gave evidence to parliament’s foreign affairs select committee about UK relations with Turkey.

The extradition request alleges that Keleş is a member of the Gülen movement, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. The UK does not list it as a terrorist organization.

The movement, inspired by the views of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, strongly denies involvement in any acts of terrorism or the coup attempt.

The extradition papers given to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) claim Keleş used his social media accounts to share photos and videos of Gülen as propaganda. Keleş denies all the terrorism allegations.

The Turkish authorities say Keleş would face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of membership of what they describe as an “armed terrorist organization.”

One section of the evidence claims Keleş has visited Gülen, who lives in the US, and that TV images show him walking into a room where Gülen was having his pulse checked.

Hannah Raphael, of BCL Solicitors, who represents Keleş, said: “In other European jurisdictions, these types of cases have not got off the ground, presumably because the authorities take the view that they are abusive and they should not get across the starting line.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Özcan Keleş was arrested this morning in relation to an extradition request from Turkey. The home secretary must certify a valid request for extradition from a category 2 territory unless certain narrow exceptions in the Extradition Act 2003 apply. In this case, none of those exceptions apply.”

The attempt to remove Keleş is the latest in a series of high-profile extradition actions in the British courts against critics or opponents of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

All cases to date have been thrown out on the grounds that they are politically motivated or that Turkey’s prison system breaches human rights. The most recent involved a media proprietor, Hamdi Akın İpek.

The Home Office has a duty to certify that extradition requests are legitimate but has rubber-stamped a stream of Turkish claims that involve the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts in lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful actions.

In 2017 the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, visited London and urged Theresa May to extradite fugitive businessmen and activists living in Britain who were allegedly involved in the 2016 failed military coup in Ankara and Istanbul.

Tens of thousands of journalists, lawyers and civil servants remain in prison in Turkey following the coup attempt, which the Erdoğan administration blamed on supporters of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. Gülen has denied involvement.

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