Turkey takes crackdown on press freedom beyond its borders, seeks extradition of journalist from Sweden

In a new effort to silence government critics abroad, a Turkish court has requested the extradition of a Turkish journalist who is living in exile in Sweden for allegedly insulting two officers of the court in 2018.

Levent Kenez, an editor for Nordic Monitor, is accused of libeling a prosecutor and a judge at an İstanbul court in an article published on Turkish-language news website TR724 on February 17, 2018 after the court had handed down aggravated life sentences to six journalists and media workers on trumped-up charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order.

Prosecutor Yasemin Baba

Prosecutor Yasemin Baba, who had previously drafted several indictments that called for harsh sentences for journalists, ordered the police to open an investigation and report back to her immediately after the article was published. The police, indicating that Kenez had already been profiled, provided her with a 30-page intelligence report including his phone records and personal flight information dating back to 2000, identity registry copies that included those for his two daughters, bank accounts, social security records and personal information. Baba also issued a detention warrant for Kenez on February 27, 2018, one day before she filed an indictment, which is unusually quick given the customary slowness of the Turkish judicial system.

The court proceedings began on July 5, 2018 in absentia and proceeded as an ordinary trial until March 25, 2019, when the Ministry of Justice sent  an intelligence report written by the Interior Ministry saying that Kenez was residing in Sweden and asked if the court had drafted a formal extradition request along with a Red Notice. Surprisingly, the court had ruled not to request a Red Notice for Kenez given the nature of the offense during the fifth hearing, on July 18, 2019. However, the ministry sent a new directive on August 9, 2019, this time requesting that the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office urge the court to prepare documents for an extradition request and to follow instructions attached to the directive. Finally, the İstanbul 36th High Criminal Court decided to file an extradition request for Kenez at the sixth hearing, on December 12, 2019.

Prosecutor Can Tuncay

The documents for the extradition request were prepared on March 9, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, when courts had postponed hearings and most of the staff were allowed to stay at home. The request claims that Kenez pointed out judge Kemal Selçuk Yalçın and prosecutor Can Tuncay as targets for terrorist groups, a common pretext used by the Turkish government to remove political opponents and civil society activists. Prosecutor Tuncay was accused of involvement in the death of teacher Gökhan Açıkkollu, who had been subjected to torture during detention in police headquarters in İstanbul. Judge Yalçın was the head of a panel of judges that had handed down life sentences to three prominent journalists including novelist Ahmet Altan and three other defendants on February 16, 2018. Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals later declined to uphold the aggravated life sentences. An İstanbul high criminal court again gave the defendants jail sentences of varying lengths. Among them were Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek, who were accused of sending implicit messages about a coup attempt that took place in Turkey on July 15, 2016 in a TV commercial run by Turkey’s best-selling and now-defunct Zaman daily almost a year before the coup attempt.

Prosecutor Yasemin Baba ordered police to immediately open an investigation.




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