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Swedish court blocks extradition of journalist sought by Turkey in Nato deal

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Sweden’s supreme court has blocked the extradition of an exiled Turkish journalist, which was a key demand by Ankara to ratify Stockholm’s Nato membership.

The court said on Monday there were “several hindrances” to sending back Bülent Keneş, a former editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, who Turkey accuses of being involved in a 2016 attempt to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Some of the accusations against Kenes are not crimes in Sweden, which along with the political nature of the case and his refugee status made extradition impossible, the court added.

“There is also a risk of persecution based on this person’s political beliefs. An extradition can thusly not take place,” the judge Petter Asp said in a statement. As a result, “the government … is not able to grant the extradition request.”

The Swedish foreign ministry said: “If the supreme court declares that there are hindrances to an extradition in an individual case the government has to deny the extradition request.”

It added: “We can’t speculate on any potential effects on the Nato accession. Sweden’s government has to follow Swedish and international law in extradition affairs, which is also laid out in the trilateral agreement.”

Kenes is the only person Erdoğan has identified by name among dozens of people Ankara wants extradited in exchange for approving Sweden’s Nato membership.

Following decades – or in Sweden’s case centuries – of staying out of a military alliance, Sweden and Finland made the historic decision to apply to join Nato after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The bid needs unanimous approval from all Nato members.

Apart from Hungary, which is due to ratify the countries’ membership in early 2023, Turkey is the only country threatening to prevent them from joining.

Turkey, which has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists”, has held back on ratifying the Nato applications despite reaching an agreement with the two countries in June.

Ankara says it expects Stockholm in particular to take tougher action on several issues, including the extradition of criminals.

The Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, travelled to Turkey in November to meet Erdoğan to discuss the issues. When pressed about “terrorists” he wants extradited from Sweden during a joint press conference, Erdoğan only named Kenes as one on the list.

Stockholm has repeatedly stressed that its judiciary is independent and has the final say in extraditions.

In early December, Sweden extradited to Turkey a convicted member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), who had fled to Sweden in 2015 but had his asylum request denied.

Kenes, who now works for the Stockholm Center for Freedom – an association founded by other Turkish dissidents in exile – said on Monday he was “happy” but not surprised by the court’s opinion.

“It is not an unexpected decision. I have always repeated that I had 100% trust in the Swedish legal system and judicial system because Sweden has rule of law,” Kenes said, while stressing that the allegations against him were “fabricated by the Erdoğan regime”.

He said he had committed “neither political crime nor violent crime”, adding: “I’m not a coup maker, I am not a terrorist. I am just a journalist. I am just a person doing his journalism in the framework of defending human rights.”

Ankara has over time increased the number of people it wants extradited: first 33, then 45, then 73, in unofficial lists published by media close to the Turkish government.

Speaking in November, Kenes said he believed he was singled out by Erdoğan “because he has known me for decades” due to his long career as a journalist, and because it was the first name he came up with off the top of his head.

Source: The Guardian News

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