Spain arresting EU citizens persecuted by Turkey on their views is a scandalous act

Only a week or two after the failed coup in Turkey, which took place in July 15, 2017, I was discussing some legal matters which might be of use any of my journalist or academic friends, who either happened to be on European soil or had fled the country.

After some conversations with German colleagues and bureaucrats at European Court of Human Rights, who knew about rights and obstacles, I called a British lawyer. He had some questions to ask, about who abroad would be where etc.

And when he learned that Can Dündar – the former editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, who had to leave the country because of high crime charges simply because of journalism – he was clearly irked.

I had told him in confidence that he was in Barcelona, albeit temporarily.

After a brief silence, ‘I think he should be immediately told that he mustn’t stay there’ he said. I was suprised. ‘Why, Spain is part of the EU?’ I reacted. ‘It’s high risk because of two reasons’ he answered calmly.

‘First the two countries have bilateral treaty on return of people suspected or charged of crimes; and second, more important, the Spanish authorities, particularly its police, is not at all as aware about the lack of rule of law in Turkey, they are rather ignorant, aloof and rigid about the cases that come before them. They tend to believe Turkish authorities even when it often lies, and lacks any notion of justice and proof.’

Soon after, Dündar left Barcelona for Germany. I still wonder what would have happened if Ankara had found out where he was. Most probably, I have an inkling now, he would have faced the same fate as two Kurdish dissidents from Turkey, who only in the course of weeks ended up in Spanish jails.

The first one was Hamza Yalçın, the editor of the leftist, pro-Kurdish weekly, Odak; and the second, Doğan Akhanlı, a prominent human rights defender, author and outspoken critique of Erdoğan’s government.

Yalçın is a Swedish citizen; Akhanlı is a bearer of German nationality for a long time.


Akhanlı was released Sunday morning, but it doesn’t change the concern that his – or other EU passport bearers’ – freedom to travel and personal integrity has already been endangered; sending wrong signals.

At the outset, the Spanish pattern is utterly worrisome. From the legal perspective, an EU member country arresting people who are citizens of other EU countries, on demands of a third country, whose rule of law entirely collapsed and whose leadership for some time has resorted to hostage-taking tactics, – doing so without any flexibility and consultations with the EU countries involved, is, simply, a scandal.

It appears to be so, because the collapse of rule of law in Turkey is coupled with its authorities’ inability to present any credible evidence about any politically-coloured case and suspects – including the failed coup – and, late reports suggest, that because of the immense post-coup purge, the judiciary now has been filled by young, Erdoğan-loyal recruits who do exactly as the political executive tells them to do. Arrest this, prepare an indictment like that, keep that and that in jail etc.

The point is some EU member countries, such as Germany, now is fully aware of this catastrophic situation.

The row that developed between Erdoğan and Berlin has exposed the magnitude of that: Turkish president is extremely frustrated that some Turkish officers, academics, journalists and dissident Kurds are ‘still making noise’ on EU soil. He has repeated that around 4.500 dossiers of extradition were sent to Berlin, to no avail.

German authorities understandably reject those, saying that the concrete evidence is lacking, and the extradition to current Turkey, in which torture has come back and the death penalty is being pushed forth by the ruling AKP, is unlikely – because the EU and European Human Rights Court system is strictly binding.

Spain should be aware that the showdown between Turkish government and its allies is to escalate. Both the EU and the USA are exposed to the fact that, regarding the dissidents from Turkey, Erdoğan is absolutely determined to export his own values and his will to European mark.

“The Turks have been shameless about [privately] linking arrests to people they want in the US and Germany,” one European police official told BuzzFeed News recently. “We’re in the process of warning our own people to pay attention.”

Eric Edelman, who served as US ambassador to Turkey from 2003 to 2005, cited Turkish attempts to intervene at a trial that Erdoğan sees as ‘extremely sensitive’ for his international status – the so-called Zarrab case- and claimed in a recent Washington Post article that the ”the Turkish government is engaged in hostage diplomacy.”

Turkey is at a very turbulent phase, threatened by a full-scale mobocracy. Spain, therefore, should be extremely aware of this special case, and treat it as such. In cases like Yalçın and Akhanlı, deep and rapid consultations with Sweden and Germany would have been much wiser; shown respect for human rights than taking seriously the Turkish demands for extradition in the cases of freedom of expression. It is apparent that the security and judicial apparatus in Turkey is now an extended arm of its mobocratic rule.

Most important of all, the EU – and other – citizens of Turkish/Kurdish origin, who disagree with the way Erdoğan is running Turkey, must be able to travel to Spanish soil without any fear for unfair treatment by its authorities.