June 20, 2019, LONDON — On May 20, 2019, the Metropolitan Police arrested our Chairperson, Ozcan Keles, on the basis of Turkey’s extradition request, which had been certified by the Home Office. Ozcan is a British citizen, born and brought up in Britain, where he has lived his whole life. Ozcan is a father of four wonderful boys, is a non-practising Barrister pursuing a PhD on Human Rights at the University of Sussex and is, of course, currently the Chairperson of this charity, of which he was also the Executive Director between 2008 to 2014. Ozcan has spent almost his entire adult life volunteering and working for the third sector.
Ozcan has 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. He now stands charged with terror offences in Turkey – on the grounds of  membership and  propaganda of an “armed terrorist organisation”. (The ostensible basis of this claim is that Ozcan is a “member” of the Fethullah Gülen inspired Hizmet movement, which Turkey has proscribed as 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 Ozcan’s Tweets and his trusteeship of the Dialogue Society as evidence of his “crime”. Now that the Home Office has certified this request against our Chairperson, Ozcan is obliged to embark on the costly process of defending himself in an already over-stretched court system.
To charge Ozcan Keles with “armed terrorism”, on account of his association with the Dialogue Society, is an astonishing accusation that defies all logic and rationality. The Dialogue Society is a UK-registered charity that has been running since 1999. Its objective is to promote peaceful social relations between people and communities in the UK, through interfaith and intercultural exchange (see here our About Us page). Our longstanding activities and projects, which are diametrically opposed to violent extremism of any kind, speak for themselves. Under Ozcan’s leadership, the Dialogue Society has devised and delivered a range of projects. Some of these include an MA programme and a peer-reviewed academic journal on Dialogue Studies; the publication and free distribution of ‘DIY’ community dialogue manuals; and the delivery of capacity building courses for the disadvantaged youth such as the Success School and Dialogue School. (See our brochure covering events during Ozcan’s term as Executive Director.)
What’s more, the Dialogue Society has both published on and delivered projects geared towards the explicit tackling of violent extremism under the leadership of Ozcan. Some of these include a report that advocated for a positive counter-narrative approach to rooting out violent extremism in 2009; the translation, adaptation and free distribution of a book that undermines violent extremist ideology claiming an Islamic justification by making the theological case for dialogue in Islam in 2011; the adaptation of the aforementioned book into a course that is delivered in mosques and madrasahs to date; the publication on the naming, framing and challenging of violent extremism claiming an Islamic justification (2105) and many talks and speeches on the topic. The Dialogue Society even secured central government funding to run some of these and other projects, dating as far back as 2010. In addition, we know that Ozcan worked and published on the topic of countering violent extremism and Islamophobia in his personal capacity as well (e.g. see here).
It is our view, that the Turkish government is pursuing our Chairperson for his willingness to criticise the Turkish government in public. The Guardian newspaper covered the story on the day of Ozcan’s arrest. It 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.)
The German broadsheet paper Die Welt, which also covered the story of Ozcan’s arrest 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.)
When asked for a comment for this press release, Ozcan said:
“This is a daunting and traumatic process, which impacts my family as well as my wider circle of friends and community. I believe it is aimed at having a chilling effect on those willing to criticise the Turkish government. As a British citizen, I never thought I’d have to face something like this here in Great Britain for having the audacity to speak up and exercise my right to freedom of speech. The simple fact is that our extradition laws do not allow British officials to formally reject extradition requests from countries like Turkey on the basis of merit, however meritless the case is. I have now taken a period of intermission from my PhD to focus exclusively on this. I have set up an online crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to fight this case in court. While ‘the money’ matters, what matters more is showing a united and principled front against the Turkish government’s spurious extradition request. I am humbled by the solidarity shown by friends, colleagues, acquaintances and social media contacts so far. Please know that it helps and please lend your support if you can. While I must point out that I have implicit trust in the English judiciary, the process nonetheless is very hard and destabilising for me and my family.”
As the Dialogue Society family, we call upon all of our friends, partners and contacts to help support our Chairperson, Ozcan Keles, in this hour of need. We cannot have dialogue if we cannot speak without fear of persecution and reprisal.
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Note to Editors
The Dialogue Society was established in London in 1999 by British Muslims of Turkish background who were inspired by the teachings and example of Fethullah Gülen. It aims to promote dialogue and advance social cohesion by connecting communities through discussion forums, courses, capacity building publications and outreach. The Dialogue Society is not a religious or ethnic organisation but rather aims to facilitate dialogue on a whole range of social issues, regardless of any particular faith or religion. It stands for democracy, human rights, the non-instrumentalisation of religion in politics, equality and freedom of speech. For more information, see: www.dialoguesociety.org.