Turkey on Tuesday lashed out at Sweden’s refusal to extradite a top reporter that Ankara has demanded in exchange for its ratification of Stockholm’s NATO membership bid.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Sweden to return dozens of people that he suspects either of involvement in a failed 2016 coup or of membership of a banned Kurdish militia that Washington and the European Union designate as “terrorists”.
But the now-closed Today’s Zaman newspaper’s editor-in-chief Bulent Kenes was the only person Erdogan has singled out by name.
Sweden’s Supreme Court cited the risk of Turkey’s “persecution based on this person’s political beliefs” when it blocked the request on Monday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the ruling threatened to derail hard-fought progress that the sides have made through months of delicate talks.
“The rejection of our request for the extradition of Bulent Kenes is a very negative development,” Cavusoglu told reporters.
Cavusoglu stressed that Sweden’s extradition earlier this month of one man suspected of membership of a banned Kurdish insurgency group was insufficient to win Turkey’s approval.
“If they expect that they can return one person and then close this affair, this is not realistic,” Cavusoglu said. “We no longer want to hear good words from Sweden and Finland, we want to see concrete steps.”
Sweden and Finland broke with decades of military non-alignment and decided to apply for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey and Hungary remain the only NATO member states to have failed to ratify the Nordic neighbors’ applications.
Cavusoglu said he would have more discussions about the dispute during a visit to Ankara on Thursday by Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom.
Most of Turkey’s demands have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
Some analysts believe Erdogan is holding up the ratification as a bargaining chip in a broader diplomatic standoff with the United States.
Erdogan is pushing U.S. President Joe Biden to follow through on his pledge to supply Turkey’s aging air force with new fighter jets.
The deliveries are being held up by resistance from U.S. senators who worry about Erdogan’s tough rhetoric on Turkey’s historic rival Greece.
The Turkish leader also wants Washington to end its alliance with a Kurdish group that the United States relied on in its battle against Islamic State group insurgents in Syria.
Ankara is demanding that both Sweden and Finland recognize the Syrian Kurdish fighters as allies of banned PKK militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told Erdogan in Ankara last month that Stockholm “will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat”.
The reporter Kenes headed a newspaper backed by Fethullah Gulen — a U.S.-based preacher Erdogan blames for the failed military putsch in 2016.
Kenes told AFP last month that he suspects Erdogan mentioned his name “because he has known me for decades” due to his long career as a journalist.
“The other explanation is much more pessimistic and serious and that’s that he really hates me,” he said.