“Under no circumstances can Sweden fulfill Turkey’s demand to deport exiled Turkish journalist Bülent Keneş and continue calling itself a democratic nation governed by the rule of law,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said told Turkish Minute on Wednesday.
Said’s remarks came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded the extradition of a Turkish journalist living in exile in Sweden whom he called a “terrorist” during a press meeting in Ankara with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
Kristersson was hoping to persuade Turkey to drop its opposition to Sweden joining the NATO military alliance, with Ankara accusing Stockholm and Helsinki of harboring political dissidents who are labelled as “terrorists” by Turkey.
Among them is journalist Bülent Keneş, an academic and the former editor-in-chief of the now-closed English language Today’s Zaman daily, also an outspoken critic of Erdoğan’s government.
Erdoğan said just as Sweden wants to join NATO for its security, Turkey wants Sweden to take steps to help Turkey eliminate its concerns about its security.
“Issues such as the number of the terrorists who will be extradited to Turkey, 30 or 100, are things open to discussion. The deportation of the terrorist named Bülent Keneş is of importance to us,” Erdoğan said at a news conference with Kristersson.
“Swedish officials should not use exiled journalists as bargaining chips in their dealings with Turkey,” Said said and added, “Sweden must not give in to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s blackmail and set a precedent that would endanger exiled Turkish journalists worldwide.”
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 Keneş.
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 Gülen movement and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
Keneş is accused by the Turkish government of links to the Gülen movement, labelled by the Turkish government as the mastermind of a failed coup in 2016 and a “terrorist organization.” The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch or terrorist activity.
Today’s Zaman, a sister newspaper to Turkey’s best-selling newspaper Zaman, was closed down by the government in the aftermath of the coup attempt in addition to dozens of other media organizations due to their links to the movement.
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.
Keneş was also targeted last month by the pro-government Sabah daily, which revealed his home address and secretly taken photos in Stockholm.
The journalist left Turkey in the aftermath of the coup attempt to avoid a government-led post-coup crackdown targeting critical journalists as well as non-loyalist citizens.