Suat Yıldırım, an 80-year-old Turkish professor associated with the Fethullah Gülen movement, is safe in Germany for now.
Germany informed the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that it would not even consider handing over exiled critics who face aggravated life sentences in Turkey and rejected a recent extradition request submitted by the Turkish Embassy in Berlin with no action.
According to the official communication, a copy of which was obtained by Nordic Monitor, Germany's Foreign Ministry notified the Turkish Embassy on December 2, 2020 that it would not consider reviewing extradition requests sent by Turkey when the persons in question face aggravated life sentences.
Referring to German Constitutional Court rulings in 2010 and 2011, the ministry underlined that "in such cases, the approval of the extradition request would not comply with the minimum standards of international law applicable in Germany and the basic principles of [German] constitutional law."
Aggravated life imprisonment, which replaced the death penalty in 2004, is the harshest sentence under Turkish penal law. It means severe restrictions on inmates, solitary confinement and no early parole, which violates the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party. The Erdoğan government often sentences its critics to aggravated life in order to sustain its intimidation campaign against opponents, critics and dissidents.
Turkish government document revealing that Germany informed Turkey it would not consider extraditing critics who face aggravated life sentences. [Enlarge]
The German government's response was delivered after Turkey filed an extradition request for Suat Yıldırım, an 80-year-old Turkish professor who has authored numerous books on Islam and criticized Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). The academic is associated with President Erdoğan's most outspoken critic, Fethullah Gülen, and his movement.
Turkish prosecutors, acting under political directives from the Erdoğan government, filed numerous charges against Yıldırım on dubious evidence including one for smearing and criticizing the Diyanet's political operations.
After receiving the response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Turkey's Justice Ministry informed the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on January 4, 2021 that efforts to secure the extradition of Yıldırım had failed.
In its communication to the Turkish Embassy, the German Foreign Ministry also said the authorities could not locate Yıldırım in German territory, meaning that the professor likely settled in another European country and that the Turkish government mistakenly thought he actually lived in Germany.
Germany is one of the top destinations in Europe for members of the Gülen movement who have sought political asylum since 2014, when the group was the subject of a crackdown under the Erdoğan government. The movement's leader, living in the US in self-exile since 1999, has been an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption in governance to Turkey's arming of jihadists abroad.
Over half a million Gülenists faced legal action, most in the form of detention and imprisonment on dubious charges, in Turkey when the government blatantly abused the criminal justice system to stifle dissent and muzzle critical voices. Thousands of institutions including schools, universities, foundations, businesses and hospitals were summarily shut down by decrees issued by President Erdoğan in 2016, and their assets were seized by the government.
Human rights groups documented systematic and nationwide torture and ill-treatment in detention centers and prisons in Turkey, while enforced disappearances by elements of the Turkish police and intelligence agency have been on the rise in recent years.
Almost all European countries at one time or another have balked at Turkey's politically motivated extradition requests for Gülenists, and Interpol repeatedly warned the Erdoğan government against abusing law enforcement cooperation mechanisms that were designed to combat real criminals after Turkey attempted to flood the Interpol system with fraudulent filings.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.