The Swedish Supreme Court last week rejected a request from Turkey for the extradition of journalist Levent Kenez, ruling that Turkey’s allegations against Kenez did not contain a criminal element under Swedish law, Nordic Monitor reported. The high court also stated that if Kenez returned to Turkey, he would face the risk of persecution.
In its extradition request, which includes an arrest warrant dated March 23, 2020, Turkey indicated that Kenez, who is now an editor for Nordic Monitor, is suspected of membership in an armed terrorist organization, invoking Articles 53 and 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Articles 3 and 5/1 of the Anti-terror Law. Hundreds of journalists have been imprisoned in Turkey since 2016 due to the abuse of these penal provisions.
The Turkish Ministry of Justice included Kenez’s tweets and retweets, bank account information and HTS (Historical Traffic Search) records in the file sent to Sweden as evidence. Turkey also claimed that as editor-in-chief of the Meydan daily, Kenez had connections and contacts with high-ranking members of the Gülen movement, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government considers a terrorist organization, and that he, moreover, acted as a mouthpiece for the movement.
The Supreme Court ruled that Kenez’s journalistic activity as editor-in-chief of a newspaper would not correspond to a crime under Swedish law, contrary to Turkey’s allegations, even if his newspaper were to have had links to a particular designated organization, referring to the Gülen movement.
The high court also pointed out that an extradition cannot take place because of ancestry, belonging to a certain social group or religious or political opinions and added that the risk of persecution in the foreign state is another obstacle to approving extradition requests.
The court also referred to Kenez’s political refugee status, which was granted due to the risk of persecution.
“It was an expected decision. It was clear that journalism could not be considered a crime in any democratic country. I am sad for the image of my homeland but happy that the arguments of the Erdoğan regime are not welcomed in the free world,” Kenez told Nordic Monitor.
“The decision about me is very important in several respects. First of all, it underlines that all actions attributed to me were part of my journalistic activity. Second, one’s actions that do not require punishment do not become a crime if he or she is a member of the Gülen community. Good news for all dissidents in exile in similar situations. And it is now known all over the world that a critic in exile will face ill-treatment, including torture, when extradited to Turkey,” he added.
Kenez was the former editor-in-chief of the Meydan daily, which was unlawfully shut down by the government in 2016. He was briefly detained during a police raid on its headquarters in İstanbul following a controversial coup attempt in 2016. A new arrest warrant was issued the day after his release. Kenez had to flee Turkey by crossing the Evros River to Greece in order to avoid the risk of persecution and arbitrary arrest. He has been living in exile in Sweden since then.
Nordic Monitor had previously published another extradition request for Kenez in which he was accused of libeling a prosecutor and a judge at an İstanbul court in an article published on the Turkish-language TR724 news website 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 overthrow the constitutional order. It seems that Turkey gave up on sending this extradition request to Sweden and prepared a new file.
According to Kenez, Turkey threw the previous extradition file into the trash because it saw the absurdity of an extradition request for a crime that does not even have the possibility of a prison sentence.
“It seems that in 2020, they opened a new investigation into me and issued a new arrest warrant. However, in July 2016, my home was raided, and they tried to take me into custody.”
Clandestine operations carried out by the Erdoğan government targeting critical journalists who live in exile in Sweden have been at an alarming level since 2017. Secret Turkish Foreign Ministry documents published by Nordic Monitor in 2019 confirm that the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm spied on Swedish organizations and profiled exiled Turkish journalists. Secret documents exposed illegal cyber operations by the government to suppress critical journalists, including Kenez, who are living in exile in Sweden. A review of the government documents showed that tweets from journalists resident in Sweden and articles published by Nordic Monitor were listed as evidence of terrorism and coup plotting and that Turkish police conducted cyber attacks and some kind of malicious cyber activity that posed significant threats to freedom of the press and the safety of journalists in exile.
Swedish-based Nordic Monitor’s editor-in-chief, Abdullah Bozkurt, was attacked near his home in Stockholm on September 24, 2020. Shortly after he left his apartment, he was accosted by three men who knocked him to the ground, punched him and then fled. Bozkurt sustained injuries to his face, head, arms and legs and was treated in an emergency ward.