‘I don’t feel safe in Sweden,’ says exiled journalist after attack in Stockholm

Exiled journalist Ahmet Dönmez in his hospital bed after the attack in March

Ahmet Dönmez, a Turkish journalist critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who lives in exile in Sweden, said in an interview with the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that he no longer feels safe in Sweden.

Dönmez, who is known for his reports on mafia groups associated with Turkish government officials including President Erdoğan, was brutally attacked by two men in Stockholm in March. Dönmez lost consciousness after the attack, which took place in front of his 6-year-old daughter, and remained in intensive care at a local hospital for about 20 days. In his first posting after the attack, on April 3, Dönmez said, “They wanted to kill me,” adding that his doctors had said he almost died.

Following the attack and the Turkish government’s demands for extraditions from Sweden in connection with the country’s negotiations for accession to NATO, Dönmez said he and his family are worried about their future in Sweden.

Dönmez said he is almost certain that he himself is not on the list of people whose extradition Turkey is seeking from Sweden. However, “Even if I’m not on the extradition list, I no longer feel safe in Sweden. Since the attack, things have gotten worse and worse. I am also a target,” he added.

 NATO member Turkey is threatening to freeze Sweden and Finland’s attempts to join NATO unless they extradite dozens of people Ankara accuses of “terrorism” including exiled journalists Bülent Keneş and Levent Kenez.

Dönmez was a former Ankara correspondent for the Zaman daily, which was seized and shut down by the Turkish government in 2016 over links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, is labeled as the mastermind of a failed coup and has also been called a “terrorist organization” by the Turkish government since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dönmez no longer has any ties to the movement.

Before the attack, Dönmez had tweeted that he was receiving death threats from crime boss İhsan Hızarcı after saying in a YouTube video that Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu provided protection to a mob boss named Ayhan Bora Kaplan.

Releasing a photo of the threats he received as WhatsApp messages, Dönmez said in a tweet on February 19, “Ankara mafia boss İhsan Hızarcı, who was mentioned in my last video, sent me this threatening message: ‘Don’t feel safe because you’re in Sweden, I’ll have your head cut off within 24 hours’.”

Turkish journalists living in exile in Sweden have been targeted by Erdoğan, the pro-government media and anonymous attackers.

Abdurrahman Şimşek, the pro-government Sabah daily’s news coordinator, recently targeted three journalists in exile in Sweden — Abdullah Bozkurt, Bülent Keneş and Levent Kenez — in Stockholm, revealing their addresses and secretly taken photos on their front page. Keneş is an academic and a former editor-in-chief of the now-closed English language Today’s Zaman newspaper, and Bozkurt was the former Ankara representative of Today’s Zaman.

Sabah’s stories about exiled Turkish journalists who are living in Sweden comes at a time when Turkish journalists in exile, including Dönmez, were being subjected to attacks by unknown assailants believed to be linked to the Turkish government. The Sabah daily is owned by the Turkuvaz Media Group, whose CEO is Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Erdoğan’s son-in-law and former finance minister Berat Albayrak.

In 2020 journalist Bozkurt sustained injuries when he was attacked by three men who were waiting for him in front of his house in Stockholm.

A non-binding deal Sweden and fellow NATO aspirant Finland signed with Turkey in June commits them to “expeditiously and thoroughly” examine Ankara’s requests for suspects linked to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is labeled as the mastermind of a failed coup and a “terrorist organization” by the Turkish government, as well as members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Both Swedish and Finnish government officials said they will continue to respect national and international laws regarding Turkey’s extradition requests and that the decision for extraditions will be up to independent authorities and the courts. However, the individuals on the extradition list have not yet received a guarantee that they will not be extradited to Turkey.

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