RSF reiterates call on Turkish-Swedish journalist Yalçın held in Spain under Turkish request to Interpol

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its appeal to the Spanish authorities not to extradite Hamza Yalçın to Turkey. A Swedish journalist of Turkish origin, Yalçın has completed his 50th day in detention in Spain on Friday. RSF has also urged Interpol to be more wary of abusive international arrest requests from Turkey and other repressive countries.

RSF has often criticized Interpol’s manipulation by repressive regimes, which are quick to issue “red notices” for the arrest of critics living in exile. Yalçın’s example shows that this practice now poses a threat to the many Turkish journalists who have fled their country.

Arrested at Barcelona airport on August 3 on the basis of a Turkish request to Interpol, Yalçın was transferred to Can Brians Prison the next day pending receipt by the Spanish judicial authorities of a formal extradition request, and then Spain’s decision on this request.

If extradited to Turkey, Yalçın would face a sentence of up to 22 and a half years in prison on charges of belonging to the terrorist group THKP-C and of “insulting” the Turkish President in his magazine, Odak. The well-known Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón announced that he would defend Yalçın for no charge.

After participating in revolutionary movements in Turkey in the 1970s, for which he spent six months in prison before escaping in 1979, Yalçın was granted political asylum in Sweden and went on to obtain Swedish citizenship in 2005.

As soon as Yalçın was arrested in Spain, RSF voiced its opposition to his extradition to Turkey, where journalists are not guaranteed the right to a fair trial. With more than 100 journalists currently detained, most of them on terrorism charges, Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for media personnel.

Most of the detained journalists are still awaiting trial. Many of them have languished in prison for nearly a year while their requests for release pending trial are systematically rejected without receiving serious consideration.

“Under international accords, a person should not be extradited to a country where they face the possibility of an unfair trial, torture or the death penalty,” said Macu de la Cruz, RSF Spain’s acting president. “And if a judge nonetheless ordered Hamza Yalçın’s extradition to Turkey, it would be the Spanish government’s duty to block it.”

The number of “red notices” – arrest warrants transmitted by Interpol – has grown almost five-fold in the past decade, from 2,804 in 2006 to 12,878 in 2016, and repressive regimes have contributed to the rise. RSF and other human rights NGOs have for years been denouncing the surge in politically-motivated red notices targeting dissidents in exile.

The criticism from civil society groups finally received some attention. Interpol began reinforcing its appeal mechanism in 2015 but much remains to be done, both as regards putting the reforms into practice and providing better filtering of requests from repressive states.

In a resolution in April 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Interpol “to continue improving its Red Notice procedure in order to prevent and redress abuses even more effectively.”

“Dozens of Turkish journalists have had to flee abroad since the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“But like other exile journalists all over the world, they are now threatened by political manipulation of Interpol. The reforms begun by Interpol must now be completed as a matter of urgency so that it is better able to guard against abusive requests from Turkey and other repressive states.”

The Turkish government’s blatant abuse of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to persecute, harass and intimidate critics and opponents is much worse than one can imagine, a research by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy group that tracks rights violations in Turkey, has revealed.

“The dubious and false charges filed by Turkey through Interpol to hunt down legitimate critics of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have in some cases succeeded in extraditing people from abroad, subjecting returnees to torture and ill treatment in notorious Turkish prisons. In other cases, people were stranded in third countries while travelling and were forced to fight the forcible return as they remained in detention facilities,” said the SCF report.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 282 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 257 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.

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