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CoE: Turkey Using Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid to Extend Repression

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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s latest report, “Transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights”, says Turkey employs various strategies to hound its critics abroad, including an attempt to trap Sweden over its NATO membership bid.

“The Assembly specifically calls upon Turkey to end its intimidation of Bulent Kenes, to recognise and respect the decision of the Swedish Supreme Court and curtail its policy of using its veto on Sweden’s membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a tool of transnational repression,” the report written by Christopher Chope, a British member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, said.

Kenes was a former editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman newspaper in Turkey, a paper affiliated with exiled government critic Fethullah Gulen. Following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, Kenes, like tens of thousands of others, found refuge abroad in Sweden, obtaining political asylum there.

Gulen, a Muslim preacher living in the US, denies any connection with the coup attempt but Ankara defines his network as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or FETO for short, a classification Western countries do not accept.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government recently pushed Sweden to extradite political refuges including Kenes in return of its approval for its NATO membership bid.

Despite all calls and warnings, Erdogan still has not approved Sweden’s membership bid amidst Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.

“This behaviour is unacceptable to all those who support the rule of law and serves as an example of the type of pressure which some countries seek to exercise over others to pursue what is essentially another aspect of transnational repression. Even prior to the Turkish Government’s statement a pro-government newspaper had revealed Mr Kenes’s home address and published secretly taken photos in November 2022. Bulent Kenes is one of the founders of the Stockholm Centre for Freedom,” the report added.

Emre Turkut, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School’s Centre for Fundamental Rights in Berlin, said the West should be prepared for autocrats’ unprincipled tactics.

“Erdogan’s pursuit of political interests that undermine human rights in return for Sweden’s NATO membership shows that the right plans must be made against authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes do not have principles. Turkey has already lost its consciousness of being a democratic state that respects human rights,” Turkut told BIRN.

While the CoE report calls on Turkey to stop using Sweden’s NATO membership in its international repression, Turkish members of the PACE objected to the link being made.

“Sweden’s NATO membership is not related to the report. Negotiations for Sweden’s membership continues on the basis of a trilateral memorandum signed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland. Negotiations for Finland’s membership were successfully finalised. Sweden’s membership is expected to be concluded successfully in the near future,” Turkish parliamentarians from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party, AKP, wrote.

Turkey’s strategy to use NATO membership issues forms only part of Erdogan’s government’s campaign to repress critics abroad.

“Reportedly, the number of incidents of physical transnational repression committed since 2014 reached 854 by the end of 2022. These acts were committed by 38 governments in 91 countries around the world. The most prolific perpetrators of transnational repression are, according to the non-governmental organisation Freedom House, the governments of China, Turkey, Russian Federation, Egypt and Tajikistan,” the report added.

Other tactics of Turkey listed by the report include manipulation of Interpol’s red notice system, manipulation of counter-terrorism financing mechanisms as well as renditions.

“The Turkish campaign has been found to rely on renditions, abuse of extradition proceedings, Interpol Red Notices and anti-terror financing measures, and co-opting other States to deport or transfer persons unlawfully,” the report noted, using examples of Kosovo and Moldova from which Turkey brought several Turkish citizens who are alleged members of Gulen’s network.

Turkut said transnational repression is nothing new for Turkey.

“The government has been using different transnational repression tools especially since the 1990s. After 2015, it became a very common systematic,” Turkut said, underlying Turkey’s backward trend in democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

According to Turkut, Turkey uses three major tactics in its transnational repression.

“First, by signing anti-terrorism agreements or security cooperation agreements with the countries it was able to … create… a legal infrastructure for the extradition of wanted dissidents. Secondly, in countries that are usually democratic countries, where this infrastructure could not be provided, legal applications were made for the extradition of the dissidents, and these applications were rejected in many countries such as the UK, the US and Belgium,” Turkut said.

Turkut said the third tactic includes various forms.

“Turkey has used various strategies to conduct a massive transnational repression across borders to supress dissidents. These include passport cancellations, Interpol notices, forced abductions and similar. All of these are fundamentally against human rights,” Turkut added.

According to a Freedom House, quoted by the report, Turkey has so far rendered 58 people including alleged Gulenists, Kurdish fugitives and other critics from 17 countries.

Turkish journalists who live abroad are also specifically hunted by the Turkish government.

“NGOs have also highlighted the role of the Turkish intelligence agency in threats and intimidation of Turkish opposition members and journalists in exile and called on States to prevent any co-operation with the Turkish secret service,” the report underlined, citing the case of a senior Turkish journalist, Can Dundar.

Dundar, then editor-in-chief of the daily Cumhuriyet, left for Germany in June 2016 after being sentenced to prison for leaking national security information.

“Since going into exile, he has faced numerous threats. He and other Turkish journalists in Germany have received protection from German authorities,” the report added.

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