The Turkish government wants to silence me through extradition to Turkey. I am a British citizen, born and brought up in Britain, and have lived here my whole life. I am the father of four wonderful boys, a non-practising Barrister pursuing a PhD on Human Rights at the University of Sussex, and the Chairperson of a UK-registered charity, the Dialogue Society. I have spent almost my entire adult life volunteering and working for the third-sector.
I have posted comments on social media (Twitter, YouTube and Blogsite), given evidence to the British parliament and spoken to the British press about Turkey’s human rights and rule of law violations. I now stand charged with terror offences in Turkey - on the grounds of  membership and  propaganda of an “armed terrorist organisation”. These are the same charges on which Turkey has jailed tens of thousands of people in Turkey including academics, scholars, writers and journalists. The extradition request cites my tweets and my trusteeship of the Dialogue Society as evidence of my “crime”. Now that the Home Office has certified this request against me, I am obliged to defend myself in court. I need to raise £15,000 [plus an additional £5,000 owing to additional costs related to case preparation] by 15 July 2019 to mount a successful defence in the first instance. If Turkey can go after me on such grounds, it can go after anyone in Britain. This must stop. The principle at stake is freedom of speech. Please help me to fight this case.
I have been an open critic of the Turkish Government’s violations of human rights and the rule of law. The context for these abuses is the aftermath of the events of 2016. Turkey accused the Hizmet movement of a coup attempt. The Hizmet movement is a network of people inspired by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who encourages the pursuit of educational and intercultural dialogue projects. The Turkish Government refers to the movement as the "Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ) and has proscribed it as an “armed terrorist organisation”. Amnesty International's report on Turkey, 2017/18 which gives the number of people in pre-trial detention regarding supposed association with the so-called “FETÖ" as 50,000. It also remarks on ongoing and troubling reports of torture in custody.
I have felt a duty to comment on these matters. I have given representations (in writing and in person) to the Foreign Affairs Committee regarding events in Turkey in addition to exercising my right to free speech in the British media and via social media. The Turkish government, with its shocking record of imprisoning journalists and indeed the chair of the Turkish branch of Amnesty International, is very clearly willing to silence its critics. My role in the Dialogue Society - an independent, registered UK charity which recognises Gülen’s teachings on dialogue as an inspiration – is cited as evidence for my membership of "FETÖ".
The Guardian newspaper report, which covered my story on the day of my arrest, noted that "[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, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. All cases to date have been thrown out on the grounds that they are politically motivated or that Turkey’s prison system breaches human rights. The most recent involved a media proprietor, Hamdi Akın İpek. 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.) As my solicitor, Hannah Raphael, of BCL Solicitors, said to The Guardian: "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."
The German broadsheet paper Die Welt, which covered my story, noted that the German authorities had received 990 requests from Turkey, including international search requests, since the events of 2016 and quotes Sevim Dagdelen, Vice-Chairwoman of the Left Party's parliamentary group, as saying, "The Erdogan regime is trying, via Interpol, requests for legal assistance and extradition, to persecute political critics abroad on a massive scale." The Die Welt report adds that the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has also already criticised the abuse of the international investigative apparatus and that, in most instances, such requests fail to reach the courts in Germany. (Die Welt, 'Wie Erdogan einem Briten in London Handschellen anlegen ließ', 29th May 2019.)
Who does this case impact?
If I can be targeted on the basis of perfectly legitimate activities in the UK, so can anyone. Turkey could act against all the trustees, donors, supporters, beneficiaries and even attendees of the various Hizmet-related charities in the UK on the grounds of membership, and the UK would certify the request without any requirement of evidence (following the requirements of the 2003 Extradition Act). What’s more, Turkey could allege that an unrelated organisation is in fact a “secret Hizmet-related charity” and pursue people related to that organisation. It has applied a similarly scandalous logic when locking up hundreds of journalists and purging thousands of academics, scholars, judges and civil servants. In Turkey itself, lawyers have been incarcerated on the grounds of membership of a terrorist organisation, on the basis of their defence of clients facing the same charge.
What is the money for?
I am not entitled to legal aid. Further, I cannot retain my current solicitors and barrister, the legal team that represented four individuals against a similar extradition request by the Turkish government this past year, on legal aid.
I need to raise £15,000 (inclusive of solicitor and counsel fees) by 15 July 2019, in the first instance to mount a defence at the preliminary stage. If the court rules in favour of a full hearing, then my costs will become far more substantial still.
If I win the case, then I would be reimbursed a proportion of this cost by the British authorities who are acting on behalf of the Turkish government. If that happens and/or we raise more money than is actually needed, then any surplus will be used as follows:
[1.] If, within a six-month period, others are facing the same situation of the threat of extradition to Turkey on similar grounds, the money would be offered to such individuals.
[2.] If this situation does not arise, or the individuals involved do not desire financial assistance, the money will be donated to the UK charity 'Time to Help' (registered Charity No: 1160467). The money will be used on the practical support it offers to Turkish citizens who have fled Turkey and currently live in refugee camps across Europe.
Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting my campaign.
Comments from friends supporting my campaign:
‘I worked with Ozcan and the rest of the Dialogue Society’s delightful team for four years (2010 – 2014), maintaining regular contact since. The projects on which I worked closely with Ozcan included a series of ‘DIY’ community dialogue manuals, diverse discussion forums, and publication of a translated book which challenges extremism and makes an Islamic case for positive intercultural relations. It is difficult to imagine a person more profoundly and actively opposed to “armed terrorist organisations”. That Ozcan – and his family - have to go through the stress of this extradition process is a shameful injustice in itself.’
Frances Sleap, former Project Coordinator and Research Fellow at the Dialogue Society; currently a teacher in a London sixth form
‘For over 40 years I have been engaged in the academic study of new religious movements, and the social reactions to which they give rise. I have got to know Ozcan and the Dialogue Society fairly well over the years and consider he exemplifies exactly the sort of Muslim who is genuinely concerned with peaceful co-existence and has done an incredible amount of work to promote real dialogue and respect among communities at all levels of society. I listened to Ozcan giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I found him there and in everything I have heard him say and seen him do to be both intelligent and honest. I believe we are lucky to have him as a citizen of our country and that our gain is Turkey’s loss.’
Eileen Barker, FAcSS, FBA, OBE; Professor Emeritus in the Sociology of Religion with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics, and Founder of INFORM (Information Network on Religious Movements)
‘I have known Ozcan for well over ten years, having been involved in a professional and voluntary capacity with the Dialogue Society. I have come to know many of the Dialogue Society members, and consider all of them, and especially Ozcan, to be outstanding members of society. The work the members engage in is a tireless quest for peace, understanding and unity between diverse peoples. What could be more commendable in this day and age? Do terrorists do bad Cat Stevens’ impressions? Do terrorists wonder interestedly what an Islamic ballet would look like? Does a terrorist entertain you at a table so groaning with homemade food that you wonder if you will ever be able to get up from it again? The idea that Ozcan is a member of some terrorist organisation is preposterous.’
Sarah Perceval, Storyteller and former member of the executive committee for 'The Week for Prayer for World Peace’ organisation
‘Ozcan has a reputation as one of the most progressive and articulate Muslim leaders of his generation in the UK. In 2015 Ozcan joined the University of Sussex; he has been a hard-working and conscientious student in our inter-disciplinary PhD programme in Human Rights, which he joined to conduct research on the highly significant topic of the convergence between Islam and Human Rights. His scholarly contribution promises to be, in our view, a path-breaking one. We have been extremely concerned for some time by the Turkish government’s targeting and harassment of Ozcan.’
Fabio Petito, Director of FoRB and Foreign Policy Initiative & Senior Lecturer in International Relations, and Louiza Odysseos, Professor of International Relations University of Sussex
‘I write as a friend of Ozcan Keles and the organisation he chairs, the Dialogue Society. I find the accusation against me to be extraordinary to the point of ludicrous. Ozcan, in my opinion, represents the very best of the Society’s values. I once invited him to Heythrop for a graduate conference on religion in the contemporary world. Admitting he was by no means expert on Islam, he spoke with a measured conviction about how religious faith can be a genuine point of contact across cultures and traditions. I remember some of the students telling me afterwards how deeply touched they were by Ozcan’s lecture. It was a memorable presentation by a man true to his principles and his Muslim faith yet also deeply conscious of the need to reach out to others.’
Michael Barnes SJ, Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Roehampton
‘I was shocked when the Home Office, despite appeals from many quarters, went ahead and arrested Ozcan as part of a process of extradition proceedings. Even a cursory reading of news and analysis of the purges and human rights violations in Turkey would indicate that Ozcan would not be given a fair trial if forced to return. And it is abundantly obvious that such requests from the Turkish government are a form of harassment and punishment instigated by an increasingly authoritarian regime. It is extremely worrying that the Home Office is taking forward such clear-cut cases which amount to the political abuse of extradition procedures by authoritarian regimes. It also must rank as an unnecessary waste of valuable judicial time in an overstretched British judiciary.’
Ian Linden, Visiting Professor St. Mary's University Strawberry Hill, London
‘Ozcan is a great advocate for serious intellectual commitment to building mutual understanding between people holding conflicting beliefs. He is also a warm and humane man whose charm and integrity go a long way to creating the conditions in which dialogue between such people can take place. I understand that the basis for the extradition request is that it is said that Ozcan is a member of an armed terrorist group. Such an accusation is so completely incongruous with Ozcan’s character and actions that it would be laughable if the consequences of it being made were not so serious. I am aware that Ozcan has made public criticisms of the ruling regime in Turkey, including before a Parliamentary Select Committee. It appears that the real basis of the extradition request is to punish him for exercising his right to free speech.’
Samuel Coulthard, Solicitor
I have worked with the Dialogue Society for the past decade and have got to know Ozcan Keles during that time as a sincere campaigner for greater understanding and tolerance between diverse religious and cultural groups within the UK. Given his family background, he is naturally interested in increasing levels of intolerance in Turkey, but ‘words’ are the tools for achieving these aims, not violence or insurrection. Ozcan Keles does not deny that he is an outspoken critic of the Erdogan government. However, as a British citizen, who was born here and has never lived in Turkey, he asserts his right to freedom of speech. It is my understanding that if the extradition request was granted, Ozcan Keles would be silenced during an appeal procedure, thus achieving the political aims of the Turkish Government.
Tony Evans, professor on the politics of human rights