“Interpol must not be misused to detain critical writers” – EP Chair warns Turkey

By Jessica Jacques

Turkish-Swedish writer Hamza Yalçın is still in jail in Spain waiting for his case to be heard. He is due to be extradited to Turkey where he will face trial on "terrorism" charges" and “insulting President Erdoğan“. But he has won important political backing.

Can Brians Prison, Spain Hamza Yalçın is held in Can Brians Prison close to Barcelona in Spain

Given journalists and writers with Turkish roots being detained in Spain because the Erdoğan administration issued a warrant with Interpol, David McAllister, MEP at the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee told ECPMF: “Without a free press there is no freedom – the free press is the basis of a critically thinking and democratic society. It is the gauge of freedom". A German politician of Angela Merkel’s CDU party with Scottish roots, McAllister strongly criticises Turkey’s alleged 'abuse' of Interpol: 

Our values are in danger where journalists cannot report freely. Therefore institutions such as Interpol must not be misused in attempts to detain critical writers.”

Interpol’s neutrality policies even forbid these proceedings: Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution states, “It is strictly forbidden for the Organisation to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” One of the main aims of Article 3 is “to protect individuals from persecution.” 

Nevertheless on 24th August the Spanish Court of Appeal (Sala de lo Penal de la Audiencia) refused the appeal for Yalçın’s freedom, considering him to be at risk of fleeing the country, as he is not a Spanish citizen. Yalçın has dual Swedish and Turkish nationality and has lived in exile in Sweden for many decades. He has worked as editor-in-chief of socialist magazine "Odak Dergisi" and has been involved with the Swedish Writers Union.

The Court did not consider Yalçın’s lawyer’s arguments about his European citizenship and the impossibility of his extradition to Turkey.

Two writers await extradition hearings

Also German writer Doğan Akhanlı, who has written about human rights in Turkey as well as the Armenian genocide, was arrested in Spain. But he has been released on the condition that he must stay in Madrid.

The ECPMF has spoken with Hamza Yalçın’s partner who believes Akhanlı’s quick release from prison was the result of outspoken intervention by the German government. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel requested the German Embassy in Spain to take up the case. The very next day Akhanlı was released from prison, with Gabriel expressing his “complete trust“ in the Spanish authorities that they know “what it is about” i.e. Erdoğan extending his influence beyond Turkish border to arrest his critics.

This week, Yalçın’s lawyer, David Aranda Checa, is preparing a new request to the Court for him to be set free. Both Yalçın and Akhanlı await extradition hearings.

Since the beginning of the case, the Spanish Federation of Journalists’ Union (FeSP) has been campaigning for Yalçın’s release through its member in Catalonia (Sindicat de Periodistes de Catalunya, SPC).

The ECPMF’s Spanish partner, the Spanish Platform for Defence of Freedom of Information (PDLI) along with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have been actively working for Yalçın’s and Akhanlı’s freedom. They have legally registered reports, both to the Attorney General of Spain (Fiscalía General del Estado) and to the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament (Congreso de los Diputados), informing the judge about the human rights situation in Turkey. They have sent letters to all main Spanish MPs and the leaders of all parliamentary political groups.

"Surprising and upsetting"

Yalçın’s wife has visited him in Barcelona once. She told ECPMF: “He is well and has been visited by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Ambassador. But he is suspicious of some visitors and fears he will be sent to Turkey. He can read and borrow books from the prison library but has no Internet, telephone or Ipad access.“ Yalçın was “shocked” at his arrest, as were his family and friends. They had no idea his name was on an Interpol Red Notice list and find the whole ordeal “very surprising and upsetting”.

It is still not yet known when his next hearing will take place. The Spanish authorities have asked for more information from Turkey regarding the grounds for his arrest and the Turks have 40 days to provide the Spanish High Court with evidence supporting the case, according to Interpol protocol. The Swedish Foreign Minister has talked to the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs about Yalçın but this is not enough, says his partner and wonders why Sweden has not reacted in the same way as Germany.

Now it is important that the case is discussed in the Spanish media and “there should be a debate about Interpol’s searches and actions as well as how Turkey is misusing Interpol", she says. "Spain mustn’t work with Interpol on cases which are clearly political.” Gonzalo Boye, who is working on Akhanlı’s legal team, stated in an interview, “civilised countries usually have such a filter. Here (in Spain) the High Court is the filter.”

Turkey has set a deadline of September 11th, by which time Hamza Yalçın should be extradited to the country of his birth.