Turkey has turned into a “morass of paranoia” with the court system used as a state tool to silence the opponents of the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a London court heard on Wednesday.
Mr Erdogan’s regime would strain every sinew to ensure that alleged plotters involved in a 2016 coup would spend the rest of their lives in prison, according to lawyers for a prominent businessman who fled to London in 2015 and is fighting extradition to Turkey.
Turkey wants Akin Ipek and two other men to stand trial on terrorism charges over their alleged links to the Gulenist movement, which the Turkish government said is behind a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey that left 250 people dead.
Turkey has repeatedly sought to extradite the leader Fethullah Gulen from the US and tens of thousands of alleged supporters have been arrested. If convicted Ipek could face life in jail.
The men claim the move is political and are fighting the moves for extradition during the hearing at Westminster magistrates court. The outcome of the hearing is likely to test diplomatic ties between Ankara and London despite a recent warming of ties between the sides.
Hugo Keith, the lawyer for Mr Ipek, said the Turkish prosecution had been brought under executive control to purge the country of opponents and consolidate the power of President Erdogan.
“It has become a truly authoritarian regime, which now faces an economic crisis with a plunging currency, high inflation, rising borrowing costs, and loan defaults – none of which is conducive to a speedy restoration of the rule of law,” said Mr Keith.
“The international consensus is that in the five years since (then Prime Minster and now President) Erdoğan deliberately intervened in a criminal investigation which pointed to corruption in his government and his own family … rule of law in Turkey has been abrogated.”
Mr Ipek owned a raft of media outlets opposed to President Erdogan before being shut down by armed police. He also holds extensive assets in the mining, aviation, agriculture, health and insurance sectors. His Ipek University has been accused of being a Gulenist institution - an “outlandish suggestion” the defence said.
“The police, prosecution and judiciary have been brought under the control of the executive, while, at the same time, any independent media has been silenced Mr Keith added.
“These proceedings are merit-less, politically-motivated, and incompatible with the most fundamental protections of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said Mr Keith, for Mr Ipek and his co-accused Talip Büyük and Ali Çelik. He also cited the state of prisons in Turkey.
Turkey insist the extradition request is not politically motivated.
The hearing continues.