21st Sep 2023

Erdoğan to Sweden: Extradite newspaper editor, or no Nato

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (r) and Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson in Ankara (Photo:
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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned the thumbscrews on Sweden by personally naming who he wants Swedish judges to hand over in return for Nato membership.

"It is crucial that Sweden extradites terrorists sought by Türkiye, including senior FETÖ figure Bülent Keneş," Erdoğan said in Ankara on Tuesday (8 November), after meeting Sweden's new prime minister for the first time.

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Keneş is an exiled Turkish editor, who used to run the Zaman newspaper, and who was once jailed for tweets deemed insulting to Erdoğan.

FETÖ is Turkey's name for followers of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim leader, whom Erdoğan blames for organising a failed coup in 2016.

Tuesday's summit in Ankara was meant to help unlock Nato's Nordic expansion.

Sweden and Finland applied to join in May to protect themselves from Russian aggression, but they're still waiting for Turkey and Hungary to ratify accession.

Turkey had previously demanded Sweden extradite 73 terrorist suspects, mostly from Kurdish separatist groups, such as the PKK and YPG.

"PKK/PYD/YPG, FETÖ, and DHKP-C terrorist organisations must be prevented from exploiting Sweden's democratic environment," Erdoğan also said on Tuesday.

Sweden has so far extradited just one Turkish national, on 31 August, according to a Swedish letter to Turkey leaked to the Reuters news agency last month.

"Sweden is committed to address ... pending extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and thoroughly," in accordance with Swedish and EU law, the letter added.

Erdoğan is used to getting what he wants from judges in Turkey, who jailed thousands of his opponents since the coup.

But his naming people like Keneş as political red lines in summits risks being seen as interference in Sweden's judicial independence.

Nationalist Turkish media have also stalked Keneş and other exiles in Sweden, publishing their private addresses and photos of their homes and cars, or snaps of them walking around in Stockholm.

"I am not stupid. I'm not part of the coup," Keneş told Swedish news agency SVT Nyheter two weeks ago.

"I am worried that the negotiations between the newly formed Swedish government and the Islamofascist and despotic Erdoğan regime will affect the decision on extradition," Keneş added, as he awaited his court hearing.

For his part, Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson promised to play ball in Tuesday's friendly press conference with Erdoğan, but without remarking on specific names.

"I want to reassure all Turks: Sweden will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat before becoming a member of Nato and as a future ally," Kristersson said.

His foreign minister, Tobias Billström, also told press last weekend Sweden would keep "a distance" from two Kurdish groups in Syria, the YPG and PYD, because too close relations were "damaging our relationship with Turkey".

The right-wing Swedish government came to power in elections in September.

The former Social Democratic government has criticised Kristersson's approach to the Nato process, calling it "worrying and acquiescent" toward Turkey.

A YPG spokesman also told Swedish media this weekend it would consider sending back Swedish foreign fighters from its detention camps in northern Syria, in a further blowback.

"Why should we take care of Sweden's terrorists?", the YPG spokesman told Sweden's TV4. "Why should we do that when you distance yourself from an organisation that fights against terrorism and pays dearly?", he said.

A spokeswoman for the PYD in Syria told Reuters: "We believe that the Swedish government's bowing to Turkish blackmail contradicts the principles and morals of Swedish society and the humanitarian attitudes that characterised Sweden".

The Turkish president needs to play a strong man on the European stage and to satisfy nationalist feeling by going after Kurds in the run-up to elections next June, an EU diplomat previously told EUobserver.

Hungary delay

But Erdoğan's needs aside, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is also keeping Sweden and Finland guessing on Nato ratification.

Orbán's Fidesz party turned down an opposition motion on Tuesday to put the matter to a vote this week.

If it isn't done by 6 December, it will be delayed until February 2023 due to the parliamentary agenda, Ágnes Vadai, a senior MP from Hungary's opposition Democratic Coalition party, told this website.

There were several potential reasons for Orbán's delay, she said.

For one, Hungarians were currently more seized by double-digit inflation than by Nato enlargement, she noted.

But Orbán is also suspected of playing political games with the Nato process.

"I think they [Fidesz] want to blackmail Finland and Sweden for EU money," Vadai said, referring to Hungary's clash with the EU Commission, which has withheld funds from Budapest due to Orbán's abuse of rule of law.

They also "have a deal with Ankara not to rush," Vadai said, with Erdoğan and Orbán seen as gaining leverage by acting together.

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