Controversy sparked over Brazil’s detention of Turkish national at Turkey’s request

Turkey has requested the extradition of a Turkish man who has been living in Brazil since 2007, and who was naturalized by Brazil, on charges of being a member of the Gulen Movement – an organization led by US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused, by Ankara, of masterminding the failed 2016 coup.

According to a report in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, Ali Sipahi (31), who owns a restaurant in São Paulo, has been in pre-trial detention since April 6, while the extradition request is being analyzed by Brazil’s Supreme Court.

The Brazil-based Turkish businessman is accused by Ankara of being a member of the cleric Gulen’s organization because of having taken part in activities at the Brazil-Turkey Cultural Center (CCBT) and the Turkish- Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCITB), which were created in 2011 to promote business partnerships and cultural exchange between the two nations.

Fear aroused among Turkish immigrants living in Brazil

His arrest has aroused fear among Turkish immigrants in Brazil who see the request for his extradition as part of a campaign of persecution conducted by Erdogan. Some have decided to leave Brazil for fear of being the next target, according to the report.

As the failed 2016 putsch was underway, Erdogan quickly pointed a finger at the Gulen group, whom he had been at odds with since the corruption investigations of December 2013, which targeted senior members of his cabinet and eventually his own family members.

In the wake of the coup attempt in July 2016, that took the lives of 250 Turkish nationals, Erdogan’s administration undertook a crackdown against alleged Gulen movement affiliates, dismissing and detaining hundreds of thousands of public servants on charges of terrorism.

According to the report by Folha, Turkey’s extradition reason cites a deposit made by Sipahi between 2013 and 2014 for the amount of 1,721.31 Turkish liras at the Bank Asya, which Erdogan closed in 2015 believing it was linked to the group.

“Account holders of Bank Asya are terrorists”

The Turkish judiciary believes that account holders of this bank are considered members of the Gulen Movement and, therefore, are terrorists.

Sipahi’s partner at the restaurant and president of the CCBT, Mustafa Goktepe, was in the US on vacation when his partner was detained, but he delayed his return to Brazil indefinitely.

“I’m afraid of being arrested on landing in Guarulhos, as happened to Ali,” Folha quoted him as saying.

He is described in the Turkish pro-government newspaper, Sabah, as “the Brazilian imam of FETO,” which is the name used by the Turkish government referring to the Gulen group as a terrorist organization.

Requests for Gulen’s extradition by the Turkish government have been denied by the US, citing a lack of substantial evidence.

Brazil follows the UN Security Council's lists to determine whether an organization can be considered a terrorist organization, and according to Brazilian legal experts, these lists do not include the Gulen group.

“The Brazilian judiciary should not cooperate with a government that does not respect the autonomy of the judiciary and international human rights treaties,” Folha quoted Theo Dias, a prominent Brazilian lawyer, as saying.

Several religious leaders and prominent figures from Brazil’s civil society advocated for Sipahi’s release. These include the former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Rabbi Michel Schlesinger of the Israeli Paulista Congregation, and Canon José Bizon of the Archdiocese of São Paulo.

“Through its diplomatic representations, the government of Turkey spares no effort to reach Hizmet [Gulenist] people and institutions abroad,” said Cardoso in a statement. He supervises an association that bears his name, FHC, and claims that his association also received pressure to cancel events that include alleged Gulen movement affiliates.

Accusations “border on the absurd”

Folha’s report also lays out statements from a sociologist, Sérgio Fausto, who is an executive of the FHC Foundation and also a member of the CCBT’s advisory board.

According to Fausto, the accusations against Sipahi “borders on the absurd” and that characterizing the cultural center as a terrorist is a “bad joke.”

“It is the Turkish state producing fake news to make unparalleled persecution against those it imagines to be its political enemies,” Fausto is quoted as saying.

UK court dismisses Turkey’s appeal over extradition request for Gulenist businessman

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