The Bucharest Court of Appeal has denied the extradition of educator Fatih Gürsoy on dubious terrorism charges brought by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and underlined the fact that the Lumina Educational Institutions “operates according to the Romanian law.”
Gürsoy, 50, is the general manager of Lumina schools in Romania. Lumina celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, and its students have been offered places at Harvard, Princeton and MIT.
The Romanian court did not consider using the ByLock messaging application an act of terrorism and defined the extradition request by Turkey as a means of punishment of a person on the grounds of a particular social, political or religious group membership. The case revealed once again how Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe, blatantly abuses extradition mechanisms regulated by the European Convention on Extradition (ECE) and the relevant laws and regulations of the party states.
According to the court documents, copies of which were obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Bucharest Court of Appeal came to the conclusion that none of the charges leveled against Gürsoy were credible and that the purported evidence against him was not convincing. The documents also exposed that the representative of the Romanian Public Ministry had sought dismissal of the request for extradition during a hearing on December 24, 2019.
As seen in all the politically motivated criminal cases to persecute Gülen movement volunteers in Turkey, using the ByLock messaging application, which was downloaded more than 600,000 times from the Google Play Store and the App Store worldwide, and receiving and sending encrypted messages via ByLock, were presented as the main evidence to warrant his extradition.
According to the documents, the request for the extradition of Gürsoy was based on an arrest warrant issued in absentia on January 12, 2018 by the Ankara 7th Criminal Court of Peace for “committing the crime of setting up or running an armed criminal terrorist group provided by article 314/1 of the Turkish Penal Code.” The Turkish court accused Gürsoy of setting up or running a supposedly terrorist organization — the Gülen movement — by using the ByLock application under a specific username. However, the Bucharest Court of Appeal ruled, in line with Article 24 of Romanian Law no. 302/2004, which regulates international judicial cooperation in criminal matters, that the offense of using the ByLock application as decided by the Turkish court is not defined as a crime by the relevant Romanian law.
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The UN criticized the Erdoğan government for trying to criminalize secure messaging applications. The ByLock case also exposes how criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials were conducted in Turkey. On the one hand, Turkish courts have charged 123,114 Turks under the counterterrorism law for merely downloading ByLock. On the other hand, the Turkish government admitted that thousands of people may have been unwittingly redirected to the messaging application.
Similarly, the Constanta Court of Appeal also indicated in its well-articulated ruling on December 14, 2018 that thousands of people were arbitrarily and unlawfully taken into custody in Turkey for having downloaded the ByLock application. With reference to human rights institutions, the court referred to reports that highlighted the torture perpetrated on members, supporters or persons who had even the slightest connection to the movement.
The Gülen movement a civic group known for its investment in science education and the promotion of interfaith and intercultural dialogue around the world. The movement is led by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a US resident and an outspoken critic of the Turkish president for pervasive corruption in the government and Erdogan’s support for armed jihadist groups in Syria. Erdogan accuses the movement of being behind corruption investigations in 2013 and a coup attempt in July 2016, allegations the movement denies.
The court stated that Gürsoy had no connection to any terrorist activity and that the reasons submitted by Turkey for his extradition did not suffice to lead to the conclusion that he committed any criminal offense. Thus, the activity allegedly attributable to Gürsoy does not fall within the scope of the provisions of Article 35 of Romanian Terrorism Law no 535/2004, “especially where the extraditable person left the territory of Turkey several years ago and was not involved in any illegal activity on the territory of Romania, being a member of the Board of Directors of the Lumina Instituții de Învățământ SA [Lumina Educational Institutions] which operates according to the Romanian law.”
Moreover, decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal indicated, with reference to Article 21 of Romanian Law no. 302/2004, that Gürsoy was being sought by Turkey in order to “prosecute or punish a person for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, political or ideological opinions or membership of a particular social group.”
In addition to Romania, several other countries failed to respond positively to Turkey’s extradition requests for people who were forced to leave their homeland because of an ongoing witch hunt against critics in the aftermath of the coup attempt. In that regard the UN Committee Against Torture decided in June 2019 that the extradition of people who were thought to be members of the Gülen movement would constitute a violation of Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The court also underlined the fact that Gürsoy had provided proof of submission of an application for political asylum in Romania and could not be extradited due to the asylum procedure in accordance with the ECE and Romanian Law no. 80/1997.
Consequently, the court decided on December 24, 2019 that “the conditions for the extradition of Turkish national Fatih Gürsoy … aren’t met” and dismissed the request lodged by Turkish judicial authorities on the grounds of Article 3 of the ECE and the relevant Romanian laws and regulations.
The ECE provides for the extradition between parties of persons wanted for criminal proceedings or for the execution of a sentence. According to the treaty, the alleged crime must be punishable under the laws of both countries. The convention does not apply to political or military offenses, and any party may refuse to extradite its own citizens or people who applied for asylum to a foreign country. Turkey and Romania are among the 33 contracting countries.