A Bulgarian court has rejected a request from Turkey for the extradition of a suspect in the 2002 murder of a Turkish academic who was detained in Bulgaria several months ago, local media reported on Monday.
Retired colonel Mustafa Levent Göktaş, a former member of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) elite Special Forces Command who was sought on an Interpol Red Notice, was detained in the Bulgarian city of Svilengrad in late August.
Ankara subsequently contacted Bulgarian authorities, and the Justice Ministry sent an extradition request for Göktaş in early September.
According to Turkish media reports, Haskovo Regional Court Judge Milena Peteva said on Monday that Turkey’s extradition request wasn’t complied with on the grounds that Göktaş might not face a fair trial in Turkey.
The court’s decision came after Göktaş’s lawyers argued he cannot be extradited to Turkey due to his health. According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, the suspect is being kept under house arrest in the city of Haskovo since he recently suffered a heart attack.
Göktaş’s lawyer, Ivan Ivanov, previously said his client was afraid of being subjected to inhumane and insulting treatment in Turkey and feared for his life if he was extradited and thus had applied for asylum in Bulgaria on Aug. 26.
The lawyer said Göktaş applied for asylum before Turkey requested an Interpol Red Notice for him on Aug. 27. He said Turkey’s extradition request was politically motivated and as a result, it was impossible for Bulgaria to extradite Göktaş to Turkey.
Necip Hablemitoğlu, an academic at Ankara University, was murdered outside his home in Ankara on Jan. 18, 2002.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued arrest warrants in June for nine people in connection with the academic’s murder. Seven of them, including retired military officers, were arrested by Ankara police, while a manhunt was underway to capture Göktaş and another retired colonel, Tan Dervişoğlu.
Both Göktaş and Dervişoğlu were reported to have fled abroad.
Göktaş faces charges of premeditated murder.
Hablemitoğlu was known for his research and books on the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
The movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, denies any involvement in the coup. Despite the group’s denials, Ankara launched a massive crackdown on the movement, arresting tens of thousands.
The Gülen movement has time and again been framed in conspiracy theories about Hablemitoğlu’s assassination. However, after the 2016 coup attempt, these theories were transformed into an indictment accusing FETÖ, a derogatory acronym coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen group as a terrorist organization, of murder.