The case of this asylum seeker demonstrates the complicity of the EU in Erdogan's purge

by Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja    


The lack of foreign resistance against Turkish extradition demands is an act of passive support for Erdogan’s regime, and many EU countries are complicit. Croatia is one of them. 

For the past year, Nurettin Oral has been awaiting his fate behind bars in Osijek. He was detained at the Croatian border in July 2016 with the charge of being a member of Kurdistan's Workers Party (PKK), and this in spite of the fact that, 13 years ago Oral was already granted Asylum in Switzerland.

According to Nurettin Oral, while he was a member of the PKK, he never fought on Turkish soil or entered into combat with the Turkish Armed Forces. And while Oral did fight against the KDP Peshmerga (fighters who pledge allegiance to Barzani and Talabani in Iraqi Kurdistan) when they joined forces with the Turkish state to try and oust the PKK from Iraq, he was detained in Iraq, and not by the Turkish Armed Forces.

The PKK took up arms against Turkish authorities in 1984 to fight for self-determination. In the political atmosphere of the time, Many Kurds felt that all peaceful avenues for Kurdish independence had become exhausted in an increasingly repressive environment. The language was banned, cultural and political organizations were fined, people were even charged for using letters found in the Kurdish alphabet. The Kurds in Turkey also had a legacy of resistance, stretching back to the division of Kurdistan after the First World War which led the worlds stateless population to be subjected to the whims of colonially carved nation states. Today, while adored by many Kurds, the PKK has become (due to Turkey's more prominent influence in the context of world politics) widely regarded as a terrorist organization. This too however, is a relatively new development over the course of history. Indeed, it was only on the 2nd of April 2004 that the Council of the European Union officially added the PKK onto its list of terrorist organizations, two years after Nurettin Oral was already released from a prison in Iraq in 2002.

When Oral willingly returned back to Turkey, he found himself a target for political and ethnic persecution. Oral needed to do what he could to leave, and applied for asylum in Switzerland. As it one of the few countries in the world which does not consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization, Switzerland granted his request.

But Nurettin Oral has been retroactively charged with fighting the Turkish Armed Forces, an event that he contends is pure fiction.

“The statement made by the Turkish state that I have come into conflict with the Turkish armed forces is completely incorrect. If clashes with Turkish forces were even present.” Oral explained In a letter he wrote in November 2017 in an effort to publicize his case through the media, “If I did enter into a conflict with the Turkish forces, why would I make the decision to return to Turkey?”

Croatian authorities are still doing what they can to cooperate with the edicts of Ankara. 'Oral is facing terror charges, while Turkish allegations of him 'compromising the territorial integrity of the Republic of Turkey' seem to vaguely correspond to Article 89 of the Croatian penal law, which bans armed forces from compromising the “territorial integrity” of another state. However, if Oral in fact only engaged in conflict with the KDP Peshmerga, this charge could not stand its ground.

There is also the moral and legal question of his extradition. Croatia is a member of the European Union and is obliged to adhere to the contents of the European Convention on Human rights. Regardless of whether Oral’s statement to have not explicitly fought against Turkey proves to be true or not, all the constituents of the European Union should take into account the dire circumstances that those extradited will inevitably face upon their return to their home country. But, unfortunately, this ideal doesn’t correspond to reality either.

Oral risks returning to one of the most politically volatile countries in the world. After the failed coup d’état against president Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan in 2016, Turkey has spiraled into political chaos marked by the strengthening of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its efforts to tighten the noose around civic liberties in order to further secure their power. The AKP has orchestrated the politically motivated arrests of thousands ranging from Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members, so-called Gulenists, academics, school teachers, and various Kurdish activists accused of having ties with the PKK.

To make matters worse, allegations of maltreatment and torture in prisons and in police custody, including accusations of severe beatings and even sexual assault, are far from being scarce.

But the Croatian Supreme Court has responded to the risk of Oral being sent back to his torture by demanding that Turkey guarantee standard legal procedure. A guarantee that Turkey is not legally obliged to follow. Oral’s lawyer, Sandra Dražić Karalić, says that when Oral heard about this demand he laughed.

“As an intelligent and a reasonable man, he had faith in the court to make a just decision. It is known that Turkey is notorious for disregarding the decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights so it is absolutely ridiculous to believe that they will take into account this plea made by the Croatian Supreme Court.”

Nurettin Oral’s case is quintessential and falls into a pattern of unfair legal treatment by EU member countries. Throughout last year, EU countries such as Germany, Spain, Sweden and Bulgaria have all complied with a number of extradition requests made by Turkey, with a number of them being made on the basis of the subject’s alleged involvement with the work of a “terrorist organization”.

Needless to state, sending someone back to their country to be tortured directly contradicts Section 1, Article 3 on the Prohibition of Torture of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” These practices blatantly contradict the European Convention on Human Rights, but why do so many EU countries not care?

Every once in a while, the popular press is treated with a spectacle that hides more than it reveals. An EU member state will refuse a number of Turkish extradition requests, the move will be publicized as a media stunt, and the press will celebrate the “courage” behind such a decision. But there is great variation in the treatment of extradition requests by EU member states, and an even higher degree of hypocrisy. EU-Turkey relations have been reduced to a lip-service commitment to condemning the ‘death of democracy’ in Turkey, releasing reports about the deterioration of human rights in Turkey, and then preparing for Turkey’s ascension to the EU in the near future nonetheless. The hypocrisy surrounding EU-Turkish relations can even be seen by the recent arms trade deal made between ErdoÄŸan and the French president Emmanuel Macron in spite of full knowledge of the reality of the Turkish regime.

This all represents nothing more than the passive support that many EU member states have extended to the existing regime, and no empty condemnations can change this. As far as the case of Turkey is concerned, EU human rights have taken second place to maintaining a status quo.

“When ErdoÄŸan came to power he had the characteristics of a Democrat. Now he turned into a dictator. (…)  Nurettin Oral says, ‘Europe can see it very well. But unfortunately, the Republic of Croatia does not want to see it. Or it cannot see. We Kurds are not terrorists. We just want to express ourselves freely within the framework of democracy.”

And now Nurettin Oral’s could possibly be extradited to a country that won’t offer him that framework of democracy.  This is not the first time that this has happened, years ago Croatia contemplated the extradition of Vicdan Özerdem, a journalist who was tortured in a Turkish prison for years.

And unfortunately, it also might not be the last time.

Zagreb seeks to avoid disturbing current Croatian-Turkish and its actions fall within a pattern of the EU’s willingness to risk human lives if the need arises. Croatia has provided passive support for AKP’s borderline-terrorist crackdown on all who might endanger the regime and continues to sing accolades to justice while stomping on its carcass which has been long dead.