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Sweden faces ‘litmus test’ on Erdoğan’s demands, journalist sought by Turkey says

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Bünyamin Tekin

Swedish democracy faces a litmus test over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s demands from the country, which include the extradition of 21 people whom he says are affiliated with outlawed groups, a veteran Turkish journalist living in exile who is among the people sought by Ankara told Turkish Minute on Wednesday.

Turkey’s justice minister said Wednesday that his ministry would seek the extradition of 33 political dissidents from Sweden and Finland under a deal to secure Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids.

Erdoğan abandoned weeks of resistance to the two countries’ applications for NATO membership after he secured a 10-point agreement under which the two countries vowed to join Turkey’s fight against outlawed Kurdish militants and dissidents affiliated with the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government labels the faith-based Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and accuses it of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Under the deal Stockholm and Helsinki confirmed that they consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a terrorist organization and agreed they would “not provide support to” its allies in Syria, the People’s Protection Units/Democratic Union Party (YPG/PYD).

They also agreed to examine Turkey’s extradition requests “expeditiously and thoroughly” and to take into account “information, evidence and intelligence provided by Turkey.”

In the list, which was not officially made public, are the names of prominent Turkish publisher, writer and free speech activist Ragıp Zarakolu, journalists Bülent Keneş and Levent Kenez and writer Harun Tokak, among others, according to a report in the pro-government Hürriyet daily earlier this week.

According to Keneş, who fled prosecution and has been living in Sweden for the last six years, the memorandum sounds like it was dictated by Erdoğan rather than a compromise reached among the nations.

Having served as the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, an English-language daily, Keneş has catapulted himself to the top of Ankara’s wanted list through his outspoken criticism of Erdoğan’s government.

“Exploiting a rough patch, Erdoğan got his way, at least on paper,” Keneş said. He added that although the wording of the text provides some leeway for the Nordic countries, the transactional nature of dealing with Erdoğan might result in Sweden committing acts that go against its democratic tradition.

“The bargaining is not over yet. Erdoğan will want to see concrete steps in line with the agreement since the [Sweden and Finland’s] bids will come before the Turkish parliament,” Keneş said, adding that this will show how resolute Sweden is to preserve its values.

The parliaments of all 30 NATO members, including Turkey, must ratify Finland and Sweden’s membership bids before they can become full members.

“Erdoğan’s demands will act as a litmus test for Swedish democracy,” Keneş said.

“If Sweden does Erdoğan’s bidding, this will be a betrayal to none other than itself,” the veteran journalist said.

Others view the agreement in a different light.

Kenez, another Turkish journalist on Turkey’s extradition list about whom the Swedish Supreme Court already rejected a request from Turkey in December 2021, says the agreement is written diplomatically and is very unlikely to result in the extraditions actually taking place.

“Erdoğan keeps promoting this as a victory. If we test this based on Erdoğan’s previous statements demanding concrete steps to lift its veto, we see no concrete steps, but Turkey lifted its veto,” Kenez told Turkish Minute.

There will be symbolic steps to curb the presence of PKK symbols or acts that can provoke Turkey such as high-level visits by YPG members, Kenez said, adding that he nevertheless believes Ankara’s expectations of extraditions will not be realized.

Emphasizing that Sweden will hold an election in September, Kenez said the issue will be used by both the ruling coalition and the opposition as an achievement securing NATO membership and a concession to a despotic leader, respectively.

In its extradition request, Turkey indicated that Kenez, who is now an editor for Nordic Monitor, is suspected of membership in an armed terrorist organization, invoking Articles 53 and 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Articles 3 and 5/1 of the Anti-terror Law. Hundreds of journalists have been imprisoned in Turkey since 2016 due to the abuse of these penal provisions.

The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, following which dozens of journalists were jailed and more than 200 media outlets were closed down on the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

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