Erdoğan seeks extradition of Turkish political dissidents in Sweden in exchange for its NATO bid: report

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has presented a list of 21 people who fled Turkey for political reasons and are currently living in exile in Sweden to Swedish authorities for extradition to Turkey in return for not blocking the country’s bid to become a NATO member, Turkish Minute reported.

Erdoğan, who threatened to block Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, urged the alliance’s members on Wednesday to “respect” Ankara’s concerns about the two countries, which Turkey accuses of harboring terrorists.

“Our only expectation from our NATO allies is … to first understand our concerns, then to respect and finally support them,” Erdoğan told his party’s lawmakers in parliament.

Both countries formally submitted their applications on Monday to join NATO, in one of the biggest geopolitical consequences to date of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, editor-in-chief of the Ahval news website, and a report in the Swedish Expressen newspaper, the Turkish Foreign Ministry submitted a list of 21 people comprising individuals who allegedly have links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Gülen movement as well as left-wing activists to be extradited to Turkey as a precondition for its support for the country’s NATO bid.

In his speech in parliament on Wednesday, however, Erdoğan said Turkey had asked Sweden “to extradite 30 terrorists but they refused to do so.”

“You will not send the terrorists to us and then seek our support for your NATO membership … We can’t say ‘yes’ to making this security organization less secure,” he added.

The PKK, which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, while the Turkish government also labels the Gülen movement, inspired by the views of a cleric resident in the US, as a terrorist organization, claiming it was behind a failed coup in 2016. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

NATO accession — including ratification by all 30 member states — usually takes between eight and 12 months, but the alliance has said it wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries’ heads.

In the list, which was not officially made public, is the name of prominent Turkish publisher, writer and free speech activist Ragıp Zarakolu, according to Expressen and Baydar.

Zarakolu, founder of the Belge Publishing House in Turkey, has been living in Sweden since 2013.

In 2011 a case was launched against the publisher on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization due to a speech he made at the Politics Academy of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). He was arrested in October 2011 and released pending trial in April 2012.

About the prospects of his extradition to Turkey, Zarakolu told Expressen that he believes Sweden is a country that is loyal to its principles and will not take any step that will back Erdoğan’s efforts to win more support in domestic politics.

Zarakolu said he has never committed the acts he is accused of in Turkey such as aiding the PKK but he has always defended human rights and refugee rights. The writer also said he has concerns about being subjected to torture if he is sent back to Turkey where he would immediately be jailed.

In 2018, a Turkish court sought an INTERPOL Red Notice for Zarakolu, but the international police organization declined to issue one.

According to Baydar, who spoke to Ahval journalist Ali Abaday on Tuesday, seven or eight people on the extradition list are Kurdish activists and politicians who are accused of links to the PKK; 10 are accused of links to the Gülen movement; and three or four of them are left-wing and Alevi figures.

Baydar refused to reveal the names of the other people whom he said included journalists, politicians and activists on the list for security reasons and talked only about the case of Zarakolu, which was already covered in the Swedish press.

Zarakolu is a well-known political activist who has been fighting for freedom of expression in Turkey for over 30 years, publishing books on issues such as minority and human rights. He was given the NOVIB/PEN Free Expression Award in 2003.

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