Prominent Swedes call on gov’t not to hand over dissidents to Erdoğan

Winfried Rothermel/Imago - Depo Photos

Seventeen prominent Swedish figures have released a letter urging their government not to bow to pressure from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who demanded the extradition of Turkish dissidents in Sweden as one of the preconditions for giving a green light to Sweden’s NATO membership bid.

The letter from Swedish writers, journalists and media executives was published by leading newspapers in the country on Wednesday including Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet in addition to Journalisten, a Swedish Union of Journalists publication. The letter harshly criticized Erdoğan for using Sweden’s NATO membership bid as a bargaining tool to hunt down his critics.

Sweden and Finland formally submitted their applications last week to join NATO, in one of the biggest geopolitical consequences to date of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Erdoğan, however, called on Sweden and Finland to stop supporting groups viewed by his government as terrorists before he’ll support their membership in the military alliance. He also asked Sweden to extradite Turkish dissidents who took refuge in the country as a precondition for approving its membership bid.

In a speech in parliament last Wednesday, Erdoğan said Turkey had asked Sweden to “extradite 30 terrorists but they refused to do so.” He was reportedly referring to people with alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, as well as those linked to the Gülen movement, accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed coup in 2016 despite a strong denial from the group.

“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 Swedes said in their letter that Erdoğan’s call for the extradition of Turkish dissidents in Sweden had led to discomfort and concern among them and throughout the entire country.

The authors of the letter said it is no longer a secret that Erdoğan has dismantled democracy and the rule of law in Turkey and has gathered all legislative, judicial and executive power in his hands. They said Erdoğan silences and jails journalists and others who do not follow his lead and that his victims can be anyone including politicians, writers, singers and YouTubers.

Talking about the victims of Erdoğan’s crackdown on his critics, the Swedes cited prominent businessman and rights advocate Osman Kavala as “one of those hard hit by Erdoğan’s arbitrariness,” who was given a life sentence in April on charges of attempting to overthrow the government due to his alleged role in the mass protests in 2013 in a politically motivated trial, as well as exiled journalists Can Dündar, Erk Acarer and Ahmet Dönmez. Dündar was attacked in front of a courthouse in İstanbul in 2016 and Acarer was attacked by unknown assailants in Germany in July 2021, while Dönmez was the subject of a similar attack in March in Sweden. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by Erdoğan fanatics.

The Swedes said their country can under no circumstances hand over the Turkish dissidents to a regime that wants to silence its critics far beyond its borders. They said they see Erdoğan’s political maneuver as an attempt to export his own mindset about freedom of expression to Sweden, adding that freedom of expression and thought can never be made the subject of any bargaining.

“Under no circumstances should we negotiate free speech. Stand up for freedom of the press and expression! Stand up for the Kurdish language! Do not hand over [people] who have fled oppression in Turkey,” said the signatories of the letter.

Among the signatories of the letter are Robert Aschberg, journalist and media executive; Grethe Rottböll, chairperson of the Swedish Writers’ Union; writer Kurdo Baksi; Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of Swedish PEN; Helena Giertta, editor-in-chief of the Journalisten newspaper; Göran Greider, writer and editor-in-chief of the Dala Demokraten newspaper; and musician and artist Lisa Nilsson.

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