December 10, 2020, London — It gives me great pleasure to be able to finally inform you that the Westminster Magistrates’ Court dismissed the spurious extradition request against me on December 6, 2019, on the grounds that the Turkish government had failed, despite its numerous efforts, to provide sufficient ‘information’ to identify any criminal conduct on my part, whatsoever. Uncharacteristically, the Crown Prosecution Service (representing the Turkish government) did not attempt to appeal that decision. My legal team advised me to remain silent following the court’s dismissal, which is why I have delayed announcing it until now.
I am a British Barrister, a doctoral candidate in Human Rights at the University of Sussex and the Chairperson of the Dialogue Society (a registered charity in England and Wales), which aims to foster dialogue between communities in the UK. I have spoken to the British press and given evidence to the House of Commons about the Turkish government’s human rights and rule of law violations. The request accused me of being a ‘member’ of an ‘armed terrorist organisation’ (that is the Gülen movement, according to the Turkish government) on account of my critical Tweets of the Turkish government and my trusteeship of the aforementioned registered charity. A cursory look would have revealed that the request was nonsensical, irrational, spurious, political and vindictive. Nonetheless, I was arrested on May 20, 2019 following the Home Office’s decision to certify the request. As a result, my family and I were forced to put our lives on hold and to run an online crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds to fight this case in court. The decision to dismiss this request came after seven months, five court appearances and two preliminary hearings, where District Judge Zani finally ruled that ‘I am not satisfied that the request, as supplemented by further information, has sufficiently identified – to the requisite standard – any criminal offense said to have been committed by Mr. Keles’.
While I am of course relieved at the outcome, this is a case that should never have seen the light of day in our courtrooms. We should not allow foreign governments to weaponize British laws to persecute British citizens on British soil for activities that are not just perfectly lawful but lauded in Britain (i.e. exercising one’s right to freedom of expression or running a registered charity). The aim here was to punish me through the gruelling process (not outcome) of extradition, which was of course achieved. As Owen Bowcott of the Guardian pointed out in his piece about my arrest, ‘[t]he attempt to remove [Ozcan Keles] is the latest in a series of high-profile extradition actions in the British courts against critics or opponents of the Turkish president […] The Home Office has a duty to certify that extradition requests are legitimate, but has rubber-stamped a stream of Turkish claims that involve the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts in lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful actions.’ (Guardian, ‘Turkey seeks extradition of UK barrister over Twitter activity’, 20th May 2019.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my wife, children and family for their loving support throughout this ordeal. I’d like to extend my particular gratitude to my legal team, that is my counsel Ben Watson of Three Raymond Buildings and Hannah Raphael and her colleagues of BCL Solicitors LLP, not just for their excellent representation, professionalism and hard work but also for their genuine care. I’d like to also thank Mary Westcott of Doughty Street Chambers, for representing me for my bail hearing. I’d like to express my appreciation to the Dialogue Society family, advisers and friends for their love, care and solidarity. I’d like to thank those who went to the trouble to provide me with character letters, whose names were read out in court by the Judge (you can see excerpts from some of these letters here). I’d like to thank my university, my school of Global Studies, the Sussex Centre for Conflict and Security Research and my supervisors for all of their support and solidarity. I’d also like to thank the many Members of Parliament who came forward to support me during this process. In that respect, I’d like to express my particular thanks and gratitude to Crispin Blunt MP, who chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee to which I had given evidence, my local MP, Theresa Villiers for making numerous representations on my behalf and Julian Lewis MP for publicly standing beside me. I’d also like to take a moment to thank Crispin’s and Theresa’s staff for coordinating our meetings and discussions.
I’d like to pause here to thank everyone who supported my online crowdfunding campaign – from those who spread my campaign online to those who donated, however large or small. It was because of you that I was able to retain the best legal representation available. In the end, I raised just over £17,000. While the case was dismissed at a preliminary stage, the legal bill, including the translation costs of documents, came to £18,660. This brings me to my second announcement: I am delighted to inform you that my legal team have now recouped the bulk of my costs and that, as promised during my campaign, this money has now been transferred to a registered charity in England and Wales. This charity, in return, is distributing this sum to refugees in Greece who have fled the Turkish government’s persecution. Thus, your donations have helped twice! A statement will be put out soon to provide you with further information about this.
There is much more to say on the substance of my case, the events as they unfolded in the courtroom, the saga surrounding the initial and additional information provided by the Turkish government, and the efforts of the CPS and so forth (for those who are interested in the background of my case, please click here). There were many occasions when Turkey’s position left the realm of legal reasoning and any form of coherent rationality. Nonetheless, the burden of proof was such that we were made to disprove the unproven and the wholly irrational. I await a suitable time and format to fill you in on those details.
However, until then, I hope that news of this dismissal and of the fact that we have recouped the bulk of our costs to distribute to those in need comes as some solace to those who remain concerned about the Turkish government’s persecution of innocent people in Turkey and abroad.