Erdoğan defends Hashemi, vows not to return him to Iraq

September 11, 2012, Tuesday/ 16:02:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected accusations against Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi that led to a death sentence against the Sunni politician and said he will not be handed over to Baghdad.

“He will not be returned to Iraq as long as he wants to stay in Turkey,” Erdoğan told reporters in Ankara before departing for a visit to Azerbaijan. “In the event that we receive a request [from Iraq for his extradition] we will host him in our country as long as he wishes to stay here. We will not hand him over [to Iraq],” said Erdoğan.

Hashemi, who has been in Turkey since April, was sentenced to death in a terror trial on Sunday on charges of running death squads. The Sunni politician rejected the ruling as a politically motivated sham and signaled that he would continue to stay in Turkey.

Erdoğan also rejected the accusations directed against Hashemi, saying: “Our friendship with Hashemi is not new. We have known Hashemi's position and actions very well for the past 10 years.”

“Therefore, it is out of the question that he has done things that would lead to capital punishment. Hashemi is a person who has himself lost several members of his family. It is out of the question that he has been involved in such activities,” Erdoğan went on.

The sentence for Hashemi threatened to stoke sectarian tension in Iraq, where a Shiite-led government is battling political instability and a Sunni Islamist insurgency nine months after US troops left.

Hashemi, a fierce critic of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, first fled to Kurdish-run northern Iraq after the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December. He later traveled to Qatar before arriving in Turkey in April.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting late on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç rejected the charges against the Iraqi politician as “illegal and unfair.”

Arınç told reporters that he believes the Iraqi vice president will continue to stay in Turkey, when asked if Turkey is considering extraditing him to Iraq. He said Turkey gave asylum to Hashemi based on evidence that his case is politically motivated rather than legal and that he will stay in Turkey.

Hashemi had a meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu hours after the Baghdad court announced its verdict on Sunday. Speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Monday, Hashemi said a fair trial would be impossible in Baghdad and accused Prime Minister Maliki of manipulating the courts against him as part of a political vendetta.

Asked directly if he will return to Baghdad within 30 days to seek a retrial, as is his right under Iraqi law, Hashemi replied, "I'm not going, regardless of the time scale that has been offered to me."

Arınç said he believes Hashemi will not go to Baghdad for a retrial and that his conviction will be final. The deputy prime minister cited a 1989 bilateral judicial agreement between Turkey and Iraq, which guarantees either side the right to refuse to extradite a convict if the requesting party's criminal investigation is motivated by a person's race, religion or political opinion.

Arınç added that Ankara will exercise its options when appropriate, but this will be later, when Hashemi's conviction is considered final.

Arınç quoted remarks by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who said the death sentence is unfair. He said before asking what Ankara thinks on this issue, one should better look at what Iraq's coalition partners, the Iraqi president and other political circles are saying. The deputy prime minister said it will be clear after all these statements that a sentence handed down to Hashemi is not legal and just and is politically motivated.

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