Top Swedish court refuses to extradite Gülen-linked former principal to Turkey

The Supreme Court of Sweden has refused Turkey’s request to extradite a former principal who used to work at a school affiliated with the Gülen movement in Afghanistan on the grounds that his actions do not constitute any elements of a crime under Swedish law, Turkish Minute reported, citing Sweden’s Dagens Juridik newspaper.

The Turkish government is seeking the extradition of dozens of people affiliated with the Gülen movement and Kurds who have alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Finland and Sweden under a NATO deal last month as part of which Turkey dropped its objection to the NATO membership of the two countries.

In an agreement signed by Stockholm and Helsinki at the NATO summit in Madrid on June 30, the two Nordic countries agreed to examine Turkish extradition requests “expeditiously and thoroughly.”

According to a report in the Swedish Dagens Juridik newspaper on Friday, the former school principal, Yılmaz Aytan, was accused of terrorist organization membership by Turkish authorities for having worked at a Gülen-linked school, having a bank account the now-defunct and Gülen-affiliated Bank Asya and for having used the ByLock smart phone application, which is considered by the Turkish authorities as a secret tool of communication among followers of the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and accuses it of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016. Fethullah Gülen, a cleric resident in the US whose views have inspired the movement, strongly rejects any involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The PKK it is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

The Swedish court said the actions by Aytan do not constitute a crime under Swedish law and that he faces the risk of political persecution if extradited. The prosecutor, reviewing Turkey’s extradition request, also described it as politically motivated.

For an extradition to take place, an act must be considered a crime under Swedish law and as well as in the country seeking the extradition.

The 48-year-old former school principal was given a permanent residence permit and a refugee status in Sweden in 2018 due to his risk of facing political persecution in Turkey.

Immediately after the abortive putsch, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a crackdown on its real and perceived followers under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, arresting more than 100,000 people on terrorism-related charges. Thousands of Gülen followers had to flee Turkey and seek asylum in Europe, the US or Canada to avoid arrest and persecution.

There are conflicting figures about the number of people whose extradition Turkey is seeking from Sweden and Finland.

In a recent statement to the Swedish TT News Agency, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Turkey had sought the extradition of 16 Turkish citizens from Sweden since 2019 but had to withdraw nine of its requests because those individuals do not live in Sweden. Linde also said while Swedish courts refused to extradite four people, three others were extradited to Turkey.

Yet, Erdoğan said at the end of the NATO summit on June 30 that Sweden had made a “promise” to extradite “73 terrorists” and threatened to block NATO membership if the commitments were not met. Before this statement, there was only a talk of the extradition of 33 people.

However, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who was pressed by reporters several times at a recent news conference to say if such a promise had been given, simply repeated Stockholm’s position.

She said Sweden will continue to respect national and international laws, no Swedish nationals will be extradited and that the decision will be up to independent authorities and courts.

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