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Turkey seeking extradition of UK lawyer over 'terrorist propaganda'

Keles is accused of disseminating 'propaganda' for the Gulen movement [YouTube]

Date of publication: 21 May, 2019

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A British lawyer is facing extradition - and up to 10 years in prison in Turkey - over accusations that he has spread 'propaganda' for the Gulen movement online.
A British lawyer is currently facing extradition to Turkey over accusations that he is a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled spiritual leader Turkey blames for plotting a 2016 coup attempt.

Ozcan Keles, a UK citizen of Turkish descent, appeared before a London court on Monday to face charges of spreading propaganda online brought by Turkey.

Keles' case is the latest in a series of extradition cases filed by the Turkish government in the UK against opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

They stand accused of supporting Gulen, who Turkey alleges carried out a 2016 failed coup attempt.

Supporters of Gulen, a reclusive cleric who has lived in exile in the US for two decades and held wide influence in Turkey and beyond, are accused of being members of a secretive terrorist organisation named FETO by the Turkish government.

Followers of the spiritual leader instead term themselves members of the Hizmet (Service) movement, which they describe as a non-political global civil society and educational effort inspired by Islamic values.

But many, including opponents of Erdogan, say the remarks which forced Gulen into a self-imposed exile indicate the cleric's desire to take over the Turkish state.

In a video leaked 20 years ago, Gulen was heard telling followers to "move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the centres of power".

A long-time ally of Erdogan before a rupture in 2013 turned the two into mortal enemies, Gulen and his supporters are widely accused in Turkey of having infiltrated the country's judiciary, army, education system and government ministries.

The UK Home Office has a duty to approve extradition requests as legitimate.

After being rubber-stamped by the Home Office, past extradition requests from Turkey in the UK have been thrown out by the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis that they are politically-motivated or that Turkey's prison system allegedly violates human rights.

Keles, who is working on a PhD in sociology at the University of Sussex and is a non-practicing barrister, is the chairman of the Dialogue Society, a UK-based, Gulen-affiliated interfaith initiative.

The academic  has also been a prominent advocate of Gulen online and in 2016 given evidence in front of the UK parliament foreign affairs select committee.

Extradition papers sent to the UK allege Keles is a member of Gulen's group, citing his social media activity.

Turkey alleges Keles has shared photos and videos of Gulen online it deems as propaganda it also accuses Keles of having visited Gulen in the US.

If the move is successful, he could face up to ten years in prison in Turkey.

The UK does not classify "FETO" as a terrorist organisation.

"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," Hannah Raphael, of BCL Solicitors, who represents Keles, told The Guardian.

Turkey has arrested around 77,000 alleged Gulen supporters since 2016, with a further 130,000 dismissed from public sector jobs.

Authorities in Turkey on Monday issued arrest warrants for 249 people they say were linked to an alleged scheme to infiltrate the government through cheating civil service exams.

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