Skip to main content

Sweden set to extradite PKK supporter convicted of drug offences

Move follows Swedish Supreme Court ruling allowing Mehmet Kokulu's extradition despite claims he will face prosecution for political activities in Turkey
A banner reading 'No to NATO' during a demonstration by the Kurdish Democratic Society Centre against Sweden's Nato bid in Stockholm on 21 January 2023 (AFP)

Sweden's government is set to extradite a Turkish citizen and self-declared supporter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who was convicted of drugs offences in Turkey.

The Swedish justice ministry told the Associated Press that Stockholm had made the decision on Monday following a Swedish Supreme Court ruling last month allowing the extradition.

Mehmet Kokulu was convicted in 2014 in Adana, Turkey, over possession of 1.8kg of cannabis and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison, as well as a fine.

He said he was released from prison on parole in Turkey and, because he committed no crimes in the subsequent years, he legally travelled to Sweden in 2018.

However, according to a Swedish Supreme Court decision published on 30 May, the extradition is to permit him to serve the remainder of his sentence, which Turkey says consists of two years and seven months.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Kokulu said in court that his extradition was being requested due to his pro-Kurdish activities and support for the PKK, as well as the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) in Turkey.

He said that between 2009 and 2012 he was active as a vice-chairman of an HDP youth section and participated in several demonstrations organised by the party. He added that he had been shot in the arm during the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey and had suffered abuse at the hands of police.

Kokulu said he was under investigation for "propagandising for a terrorist organisation" and "insulting the Turkish president" over posts made on social media between 2019 and 2020 that were critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His Turkish lawyer Abdurrahman Karabulut also told the court that he had received information from a prosecutor's office in Konya that Kokulu was being investigated for these crimes.

However, the court said evidence of his political activities was "poor in detail" and the investigation "does not provide sufficient support to assume that Mehmet Kokulu, if extradited, will face persecution" on the basis of his "lineage or due to his stated political activity".

Nato accession

Turkey has refused to ratify Sweden's accession to Nato, citing the presence there of people accused of links to the PKK, an armed group that has waged a decades-long conflict against the Turkish state.

Ankara told the Swedish government it will veto Stockholm's membership unless it agrees to extradite alleged PKK supporters and other political dissidents.

Fulfilling a key demand from Ankara, Sweden's parliament passed a new law that came into effect earlier this month, which bans activities linked to outlawed groups.

Is Hungary holding up Sweden's Nato bid in coordination with Turkey?
Read More »

According to the Supreme Court decision, Turkey had said there were no plans to charge Kokulu with any terror-related crimes and had merely requested that he return to serve the remainder of his sentence.

In December, Sweden extradited Mahmut Tat, who was convicted as a member of the PKK by a Turkish court, to Turkey.

However, Tat's family denied he was a supporter of the group and said his family had in fact been targeted by the PKK in the past.

Sweden's traditional stance of neutrality saw it become a hub for political dissidents from a range of countries during the 20th century.

However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year raised fears in Stockholm about the country's security and led to the government applying for Nato membership.

Ragip Zarakolu, a writer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was among those Turkey requested for extradition, told Middle East Eye last year that he was being targeted for "purely ideological" reasons.

"I am a journalist who has completed 50 years in the profession, based on human rights and minority rights. I am a journalist who was the first to discuss the Kurdish question, the Armenian genocide, and was prosecuted for this," he said.

"The National Security Council in Turkey perceives the theme of genocide and minority rights as a threat. By [referring to] these, it is thought that I threaten the national security of Turkey."

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.