Sweden’s top court on Monday rejected an extradition request for a man wanted by Turkey, saying the Scandinavian country does not criminalize the act he is accused of committing.
In a statement, the Swedish Supreme Court said there were “obstacles to extradition because it is a matter of so-called political crimes, i.e. crimes that are directed against the state and that are political in nature.”
The court in Stockholm said there was “a risk of persecution based on the person’s political views” if he were returned to Turkey.
The court did not name the man who was the subject of Turkey’s request. Swedish news agency TT identified him as Bulent Kenes and said the Turkish government wants him in connection with a 2016 coup attempt.
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Kenes, 55, who has asylum in Sweden, was the editor of the English-language Today’s Zaman newspaper, which was owned by a network linked to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. It was closed down as part of a government crackdown on the group. Turkey blames Gulen for the failed coup and lists his network as a terror organization.
Turkey has held up Sweden and Finland’s requests to join NATO over what it claimed was their inadequate response to groups it considers terrorist organizations, including an alleged lack of cooperation on extraditions.
When Sweden and Finland dropped their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied to join the Western military alliance in May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not approve them. He accused the two Nordic countries of turning a blind eye to terrorism.
Any decision on NATO enlargement requires the unanimous approval of alliance members.
Erdogan singled Kenes out last month during a joint news conference with the Swedish prime minister in Ankara.
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“There is one member of the (Gulen) terrorist organization in Sweden, whose name I will give: Bulent Kenes,” Erdogan said. “For example, the deportation of this terrorist to Turkey is of great importance to us, and we of course want Sweden to act with more sensitivity (on the issue).”
Kenes welcomed Monday’s court decision but insisted he shouldn’t be considered a suspect.
“I’m happy of course. But the decision was expected,” Kenes told Swedish broadcaster SVT. “I am not completely satisfied because they say that I am suspected of crimes in Turkey. I have committed no crime at all. These accusations are completely fabricated by Erdogan’s regime.”
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“Unfortunately, I expect bad things from Erdogan and his regime. They will continue to try to abuse the legal system,” SVT quoted Kenes as saying.
There was no immediate reaction from Turkish officials.
Earlier this month, Sweden deported an unnamed man who fled there after being convicted by a Turkish court of membership in an armed organization in 2015. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency identified the man as Mahmut Tat who had been sentenced to more than six years in prison.