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Report sheds light on Turkey’s politically motivated extradition requests amid erosion of the rule of law

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A report drafted by the non-profit London Advocacy (LA), an independent consultancy firm, has revealed how the Turkish government uses extradition requests against political dissidents abroad by abusing criminal justice cooperation, with a focus on cases in the United Kingdom and how the deteriorating rule of law in Turkey causes these requests to remain mostly unmet.

The report, titled “A Legal Examination of Recent Extradition Proceedings about Turkish Citizens Abroad / With a focus on the UK and UK laws,” by LA, which promotes human rights education and is involved in work to raise awareness about human rights violations worldwide in addition to providing legal assistance to the victims of rights violations, was authored by Brussels-based Turkish lawyer Ali Yildiz and London-based barrister Ben Keith, who specializes in extradition, immigration, asylum, human rights and international criminal law.

Following a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens from all walks of life including businessmen, journalists, public servants and military officers under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Since the failed coup, Turkey has seen an exodus of thousands of people who want to avoid the government’s post-coup crackdown and imprisonment on bogus terrorism or coup charges.

These people, most of whom are perceived followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, have sought refuge primarily in Europe, the United States and Canada as well as some other countries around the world.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup in 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

According to LA’s report, the Turkish government, which has launched criminal proceedings against more than 622,000 people since the abortive putsch and arrested in excess of 332,000 others, has also sent at least 1,133 extradition requests to 110 countries as part of its post-coup crackdown. Among these extradition requests, 202 were sent to the United States, while 361 went to European Union countries

Although a majority of those countries have not referred the requests to their judicial authorities, the United Kingdom is one of the few countries that certified the requests for a judicial proceeding; however, none of Turkey’s extradition requests to the UK have been approved thus far because they have not met the criteria in international law and UK law for an extradition to take place.

Turkey’s extradition requests, primarily for followers of the Gülen movement, to the UK as well as other countries such as Greece, Germany, Brazil, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Montenegro have been rejected by the courts in these countries due to the political nature of the accusations against the accused, their failure to pass the dual criminality test and the risk faced by the accused of being subjected to torture or ill-treatment in Turkey.

The Extradition Act 2003 (EA 2003), which governs extradition in the UK, and the European Convention on Extradition, a multilateral treaty on extradition drawn up in 1957 up by the member states of the Council of Europe, in addition to multilateral conventions and bilateral extradition treaties, form the legal foundation for the disposition of extradition requests.

The report cites examples of extradition requests rejected by the UK such as those for businessman Akın İpek, who has been residing in the UK on a business visa, and non-practicing barrister Özcan Keleş, who is of Turkish descent but holds British citizenship. Turkey sought the extradition of both İpek and Keleş from the UK due to their links to the Gülen movement.

İpek, whose Koza-İpek Holding and media outlets, including broadcasters and newspapers, were seized by the Turkish government, left Turkey in 2015 after the government’s relationship with the Gülen movement soured and the government began targeting Gülen-linked people.

İpek was arrested in the UK in 2018, while Keleş, who is working on a Ph.D. in the sociology of human rights at Sussex University and is a member of Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London, was arrested in 2019, in connection to Turkey’s extradition requests for them on charges such as terrorist organization membership, violating the Turkish Constitution, espionage, leading an armed terrorist organization, conspiracy, fraud, money laundering, blackmail and terrorism.

British courts rejected Turkey’s extradition requests in both cases for being politically motivated, lacking sufficient evidence, failing to pass the double criminality test or due to human rights considerations.

“It is a well-established principle that it is the duty of the requesting government to present the imputed conduct, accusation and underlying facts in precision and clarity that will ensure the judicial authority of the addressee government can carry out a proper review of the request and apply the double criminality test adequately. There is a pattern that the Turkish government’s requests profoundly lack necessary details in relation to charges laid against the defendants and are excessively generic,” said the LA report, holding Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism legislation responsible for the terrorism charges frequently and arbitrarily leveled against people.

LA’s report also mentions a wide range of reasons leading to the rejection of Turkey’s extradition requests for Gülen movement members, including the erosion of the rule of law in the country, the potential for the abuse of rights in its large prison population and widespread human rights violations.

The purge of more than 4,500 judges and prosecutors following the coup attempt and their replacement by pro-government figures who lack professional competence and independence is cited as one of the main reasons for the ongoing deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey as the likelihood of getting a fair trial diminishes.

Concern about human rights violations in Turkey also plays a role in the rejection of Turkey’s extradition requests for political dissidents. According to the report, torture and ill-treatment have been widespread in Turkey since the failed coup.

“Those accused of terrorism related charges, particularly perceived Gülenists and Kurdish people are at risk. Reports of the UN and the Council of Europe experts, the European Commission, Western countries, and human rights NGOs manifest systematic torture and ill-treatment.”

The potential for human rights violations in Turkey’s large prison population is another reason for the denial of extradition requests. Citing data from Turkey’s Justice Ministry, the report says there were 314,502 inmates in Turkish prisons as of March 31, meaning that Turkey has the sixth largest prison population in the world, following the US, China, Brazil, India and the Russian Federation.

The report also cites examples of the lack of compliance with decisions of the country’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as well as international rights committees in some cases. Turkey’s judges, who are accused of acting on orders from the government, fail to abide by the decisions of such legal bodies and do not take the necessary legal action to remedy a rights violation or an unlawful arrest. For instance, Turkish courts have not complied with ECtHR rulings to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and businessman and civil society leader Osman Kavala from prison.

“The problems of rule of law in Turkey are not easy to remedy without regime change,” according to the report.

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