The Turkish government is gearing up to file an extradition request for a dissident academic and critical journalist who took shelter in the United Kingdom to escape wrongful imprisonment on fabricated charges of terrorism and coup-plotting in his native country of Turkey.
According to an official communique circulated by the Justice Ministry, a copy of which was obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office was asked to prepare the necessary documents for filing an extradition request for Mahmut Akpınar, the author of multiple books on current affairs and one of Turkey's top terrorism experts.
The communique made reference to a document dated November 24, 2020 and issued by Turkey's Interior Ministry stating that Akpınar's residence in Leicester had been identified by Turkish authorities. It appears Turkish intelligence found out where Akpınar lives in the UK and informed headquarters in Ankara, which in turn prompted action against the academic.
The tracking of Akpınar by Turkish officials abroad is not surprising given the fact that the Erdoğan government is running a worldwide campaign of hunting down critics to sustain the climate of fear among exiles, muzzle critical voices and stifle dissent back at home.
Nordic Monitor has previously published numerous classified documents confirming how Turkish intelligence agents, diplomats and consular officers were secretly instructed to spy on critics and opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in foreign countries in a blatant violation of host nation rules and the Vienna conventions.
Before arriving the UK, the 53-year-old academic used to lecture at the Ankara-based Turgut Özal University, which was unlawfully shut down by the government in 2016 along with thousands of schools, associations, foundations, universities, hospitals and other institutions affiliated with government critic the Gülen movement. Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar and leader of the movement, has been fiercely critical of Erdogan on a range of issues from pervasive corruption in the government to Turkey's aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.
Akpınar taught courses on political science, government affairs and the Middle East and terrorism, and he also wrote columns for the now-shuttered Millet daily. He helped establish the Ankara-based Center of Law, Ethics and Political Studies (Hukuk Etik ve Siyaset araştırmaları, HESA), which issued reports on critical matters in Turkey before it was also shut down by the government. He had been appearing as a commentator and expert on current affairs on TV networks as well.
Akpınar runs his own YouTube channel from the UK, commenting on various matters and continues to write as a contributor to Turkish media outlet TR724, which was established by Turkish journalists in exile.
The academic was one of the leading critics of the Erdoğan government in 2014 when Erdoğan pushed for sweeping powers for intelligence agency MIT, which is run by the president's close confidant Hakan Fidan. Akpınar accused the Erdoğan government of turning Turkey into what he called a "mukhabarat" (intelligence) state. "MİT is busy conducting operations against or wiretapping the conversations of its own people. This is both against the law and stems from a lack of confidence in people. I see that we are moving toward becoming an intelligence state," he said in remarks reported by the Turkish press.
The changes in the intelligence law came after an illegal arms shipment bound for Syria's jihadists and escorted by the Turkish intelligence agency was intercepted and exposed in January 2014. The government claimed the trucks were delivering humanitarian aid to war-torn Syria, but videos and photos of cargo containers showed the load was full of heavy weaponry.
The academic was subjected to an intensive smear campaign perpetrated by the pro-government media starting in 2014 for his critical views, and he was warned by the government to not speak against Erdoğan. He was branded as a terrorist. The false allegations against him were later incorporated into politically motivated indictments by Erdoğan-appointed prosecutors. Despite pressure and the threat of imprisonment, the academic vowed to continue to speak his mind. He said the government's character assassination attempts would not deter him from saying what he wanted. He said he had to leave Turkey out of fear for his life and had no choice but to leave everything behind and start over from exile.
The Erdoğan government brands all its critics as terrorists, and 175 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world's leading jailer of journalists, according to the latest monitoring report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom. In total, 167 Turkish journalists have been forced into self-exile to escape prison on false accusations.
In recent years Turkey has sought to extradite other critics from the UK with no success. Turkey asked the UK to extradite a prominent critic of President Erdoğan, Mustafa Yeşil, who was president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) until the Erdoğan government unlawfully shut it down in 2016. But the UK judge rejected the Turkish government request, citing a lack of evidence and politically motivated charges. Yeşil has been affiliated with the Gülen movement, whose leader Fethullah Gülen has been a vocal critic of Erdoğan.
Likewise, the Turkish government also failed in its attempts to extradite Turkish businessman Akın İpek, also a critic of Erdoğan, in 2019 when a British judge ruled that İpek not be extradited to Turkey, where he would be at risk of violation of his human rights.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have faced legal action, most in the form of detention, since 2016 on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt. Since then, more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.
The assets of individuals and entities affiliated with the movement which, according to estimates from Turkey's Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), amounted to $11 billion, were also seized. The government also seized the assets and wealth of critical journalists and deprived them of their livelihood in order to stifle freedom of the press and expression.
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.