Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to return Sweden and Finland to the starting line if the extradition of 73 individuals Ankara describes as terrorists does not take place. “First they have to keep their promises. When they do, we will send the signed memorandum for your ratification [en el Parlamento]but if they don’t, it won’t be possible”, stated the president at the last press conference of the NATO summit in Madrid.
The day Erdogan ushered in NATO
“If the promises that are in the agreement are not kept, we will act accordingly. If you promise extradition, you have to comply and if not, Turkey will not comply with theirs”, said the president, who recalled that Macedonia took 20 years to enter NATO due to the Greek blockade. “This is not a process that can be finished quickly.”
Problems are looming in the interpretation of the text. For Erdogan, the memorandum is a promise of extradition. For Sweden, no. The text of the trilateral agreement –Finland, Sweden and Turkey–, which has made it possible to lift the Turkish veto in the first instance, only states that Sweden and Finland “will address” these requests “quickly and exhaustively”. However, Erdogan has his own reading of it: “What is important is what we understand and what we have discussed.” “Sweden has made us promises about these 73 people. They said they would do what was necessary and we hope they will.”
“First of all, we never extradite anyone who is a Swedish citizen and I know that some of those who have expressed concern are Swedish, so they do not have to worry,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Thursday. “Secondly, we will follow Swedish and international law. Ultimately, this means that if one is not carrying out terrorist activity, he does not have to worry.” “The agreement with Turkey does not change [el proceso de extradición]”, assured the foreign minister, Ann Linde.
Turkey has sent dozens of extradition requests throughout Europe against people whom it accuses of belonging to terrorist organizations that are not considered as such in member countries – such as the Gülen Movement (FETÖ) – and who, consequently, have been rejected. European countries, including Spain, not only have not authorized these extraditions, but on many occasions have granted them asylum and international protection. “In terms of terrorism, we have delivered a lot of evidence. We talk about people who have killed. If the state does not consider it that way, we cannot depend on its legislation”, Erdogan said.
Ankara has gone so far as to launch secret and illegal operations to round up opponents abroad and bring them to Turkey. “When the Turkish authorities fail to extradite through the legal process, they resort to covert operations in cooperation with law enforcement agencies of third countries, including the intelligence services and the police,” denounced in a 2020 document various UN special rapporteurs specializing in the subject. “This includes swift unlawful action to place vulnerable individuals outside the protection of the law and subsequent removal. In some cases, these acts have violated court orders against illegal deportation.”
The document refers to “what appears to be a systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abduction and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple states to Turkey.”
In 2018, for example, six Turkish citizens with residence permits (one of them had expired and was in the process of being renewed) were detained by the Kosovar police, taken to the airport and illegally sent by private jet to Turkey, where they were sentenced to prison. It was a joint operation of the secret services of both countries and the working group on arbitrary detentions of the UN Human Rights Council published a resolution on the case on September 25, 2020, describing the events as “kidnapping” and accusing both Kosovo and Turkey from carrying out arbitrary arrests.
The episode was repeated a few months later in Moldova. Seven Turkish citizens who worked at a school affiliated with the Gülen movement disappeared without a trace and reappeared weeks later in detention in Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights declared the operation illegal and sentenced Moldova to pay five of the kidnapped 25,000 euros. These operations have been repeated in other countries such as Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia, among many others.
A few days before what happened in Moldova, the president’s spokesman, İbrahim Kalın, had been very clear in this regard: “Our relevant units and institutions will continue their operations in the countries where FETÖ operates, whether in the US or another country. You can be sure that they will feel the breath of Turkey on their neck. I can’t share any details, but anything can happen, anytime, anywhere. The president has given very clear instructions on the matter and operations similar to the one carried out in Kosovo can be carried out in other countries. Everyone should know that Turkey will not allow FETÖ a sigh of relief.”
Even Turkey has considered this type of kidnapping in the US, according to former CIA director James Woolsey. In 2016, Woolsey himself was invited to a high-level meeting in New York involving several Erdogan ministers. He was a few minutes late, but when he entered, he found the participants discussing ideas to get Fethullah Gülen out of the US, where he legally resides.
As he later stated, the goal was a “covert operation to quickly take this guy away.” “There was a serious discussion to find some way to get Mr. Gülen out of the US and into Turkey,” he said. statements to the Wall Street Journal. “If you want to extradite someone, you go to court and go through the normal procedure,” she added.