At the beginning of April, the regional court in Gorzów Wielkopolski, in the west of Poland, looked into the application for extradition to Turkey of Erdal Gökoğlu, accused of being part of a terrorist group.
Erdal Gökoğlu was arrested in January in Poland after a regular control by the Border Guard. He was entering Poland to attend the wedding of his friend. While checking Gökoğlu's document, the border police noticed that he was wanted by Interpol at the request of Turkey.
The Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights prepared an opinion for Gökoğlu's case arguing that the fact that the detainee was admitted with refugee status by the Belgian authorities is sufficient justification for rejecting extradition orders.
The Geneva Convention regulations regarding the status of refugees forbid extraditing refugees to countries where their lives might be in danger.
The opinion also emphasizes that, according to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, member countries guarantee the right to asylum with respect to the rules of Geneva Convention.
Court gives 'positive signal'
In its justification of the ruling, the Polish regional court hearing the case noted the fact that Erdal Gökoğlu has refugee status in Belgium. The court also took under consideration both the HFHR’s opinion and the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Kavaklioğlu and Others v. Turkey, which is also quoted by the HFHR in its opinion.
Erdal Gökoğlu was one of the applicants in this case, in which the Strasbourg court ruled that Turkish authorities violated his right to life as guaranteed by Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The regional court argued that human rights may be violated if the foreigner is extradited to Turkey. In this respect, the court took into account the testimony of a representative of the HFHR regarding violations of the right to a fair trial in Turkey, torture of inmates, and the overall poor conditions in Turkish prisons.
“The court’s decision in the case of Erdal Gökoğlu is a positive signal for the future. I hope that Polish courts will develop a fixed line of reasoning, according to which the very fact that a refugee is granted refugee status under the Geneva Convention will be grounds for rejecting an application for extradition," said Jacek Białas, a lawyer of the HFHR who participated in the proceedings.
Situation of Prisoners in Turkey
In Turkey, there are hundreds of political prisoners (including journalists and university professors) sentenced for being members of military groups or supporting acts of terrorism. Such persons may be sentenced even if the evidence of such activity is not sufficient – and the definition of terrorism is extremely broad.
Conditions in Turkish prisons are very poor: they are overcrowded and access to health care is limited. Judges and prosecutors in Turkey work under huge political pressure and their independence is violated.