14:56, May 20 66 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-20 14:56:05
Turkey seeks extradition of UK barrister over Twitter activity

A British barrister who has given evidence to parliament is facing possible extradition to Turkey on terrorism charges over his Twitter activity.

Ozcan Keles, who is of Turkish descent and holds UK citizenship, appeared at Westminster magistrates court on Monday accused of spreading propaganda online.

The attempt to remove him is the latest in a series of high-profile extradition actions in the British courts against critics or opponents of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

All cases to date have been thrown out on the grounds that they are politically motivated or that Turkey’s prison system breaches human rights. The most recent involved a media proprietor, Hamdi Akın İpek.

The Home Office has a duty to certify that extradition requests are legitimate, but has rubber-stamped a stream of Turkish claims that involve the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts in lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful actions.

In 2017, the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, visited London and urged Theresa May to extradite fugitive businessmen and activists living in Britain who were allegedly involved in the 2016 failed military coup in Ankara and Istanbul.

Tens of thousands of journalists, lawyers and civil servants remain in prison in Turkey following the coup attempt, which the Erdoğan administration blamed on supporters of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. Gülen has denied involvement.

Keles, who is working on a PhD in the sociology of human rights at Sussex University, is a non-practising barrister and a member of Gray’s Inn. In 2016, as chairman of the Dialogue Society, he gave evidence to parliament’s foreign affairs select committee about UK relations with Turkey.

The extradition request alleges that Keles is a member of Fetö, an organisation that Turkey claims is associated with Gülen and the failed coup. The UK does not list it as a terrorist organisation.

The extradition papers given to the CPS claim Keles used his social media accounts to share photos and videos of Gülen as propaganda. Keles denies all the allegations.

The Turkish authorities say Keles would face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of membership of what they describe as an “armed terrorist organisation”.

One section of the evidence claims Keles has visited Gülen, who lives in the US, and that TV images show him walking into a room where Gülen was having his pulse checked.

Hannah Raphael, of BCL Solicitors, who represents Keles, said: “In other European jurisdictions, these types of cases have not got off the ground, presumably because the authorities take the view that they are abusive and they should not get across the starting line.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Ozcan Keles was arrested this morning in relation to an extradition request from Turkey. The home secretary must certify a valid request for extradition from a category 2 territory unless certain narrow exceptions in the Extradition Act 2003 apply. In this case, none of those exceptions apply.”

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