Update: Hamza Yalçin, a Swedish journalist of Turkish origin, was released by the Spanish authorities on 28 September after being held for nearly two months. A Spanish government spokesperson announced the next day that Yalçin would not be extradited to Turkey because he obtained refugee status in Sweden.
“We welcome the Spanish government’s decision, which shows respect for international law,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. “Hamza Yalçin’s release sends the Turkish government a clear message that Interpol should not be used for the political purpose of pursuing journalists who have fled abroad.”
21.09.17 - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its appeal to the Spanish authorities not to extradite Hamza Yalçin to Turkey. A Swedish journalist of Turkish origin, Yalçin will complete his 50th day in detention in Spain tomorrow. RSF also urges Interpol to be more wary of abusive international arrest requests from Turkey and other repressive countries.
RSF has often criticized Interpol’s manipulation by repressive regimes, which are quick to issue “red notices” for the arrest of critics living in exile. Yalçin’s example shows that this practice now poses a threat to the many Turkish journalists who have fled their country.
No right to due process in Turkey
Arrested at Barcelona airport on 3 August on the basis of a Turkish request to Interpol, Yalçin was transferred to Can Brians prison the next day pending receipt by the Spanish judicial authorities of a formal extradition request, and then Spain’s decision on this request.
If extradited to Turkey, Yalçin would face a sentence of up to 22 and a half years in prison on charges of belonging to the terrorist group THKP-C and of “insulting” the Turkish president in his magazine, Odak. The well-known Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón announced that he would defend Yalçin for no charge.
After participating in revolutionary movements in Turkey in the 1970s, for which he spent six months in prison before escaping in 1979, Yalçin was granted political asylum in Sweden and went on to obtain Swedish citizenship in 2005.
As soon as Yalçin was arrested in Spain, RSF voiced its opposition to his extradition to Turkey, where journalists are not guaranteed the right to a fair trial. With more than 100 journalists currently detained, most of them on terrorism charges, Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for media personnel.
Most of the detained journalists are still awaiting trial. Many of them have languished in prison for nearly a year while their requests for release pending trial are systematically rejected without receiving serious consideration.
“Under international accords, a person should not be extradited to a country where they face the possibility of an unfair trial, torture or the death penalty,” said Macu de la Cruz, RSF Spain’s acting president. “And if a judge nonetheless ordered Hamza Yalçin’s extradition to Turkey, it would be the Spanish government’s duty to block it.”
Urgent need to pursue Interpol reforms
The number of “red notices” – arrest warrants transmitted by Interpol – has grown almost five-fold in the past decade, from 2,804 in 2006 to 12,878 in 2016, and repressive regimes have contributed to the rise. RSF and other human rights NGOs have for years been denouncing the surge in politically-motivated red notices targeting dissidents in exile.
The criticism from civil society groups finally received some attention. Interpol began reinforcing its appeal mechanism in 2015 but much remains to be done, both as regards putting the reforms into practice and providing better filtering of requests from repressive states.
In a resolution in April 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Interpol “to continue improving its Red Notice procedure in order to prevent and redress abuses even more effectively.”
“Dozens of Turkish journalists have had to flee abroad since the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“But like other exile journalists all over the world, they are now threatened by political manipulation of Interpol. The reforms begun by Interpol must now be completed as a matter of urgency so that it is better able to guard against abusive requests from Turkey and other repressive states.”
Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.