A Turkish tourist arrested in the Cayman Islands in connection with terror charges dating back 30 years denied in court any involvement in the alleged atrocities.
Celal Kildag appeared before Magistrate Grace Donalds on Tuesday for an extradition hearing to decide if he should be sent back to Turkey to face trial.
He was arrested in December on an international warrant after arriving in Cayman on a cruise ship. Mr. Kildag is accused by Turkish authorities of murder and arson in relation to protests by a Kurdish separatist group, the PKK, in 1988, which led to the burning of two primary schools and the deaths of two people.
Mr. Kildag, speaking through a translator, said he had been involved as a teenager in peaceful protests over the treatment of Kurdish people in Turkey.
But he said he had moved in 1980 to Germany, where he was eventually granted asylum.
He said he had been part of political protests in Germany, including a hunger strike that made national news. But he denied ever being part of the PKK or any other terrorist group.
He said he had lived in fear of the Turkish authorities for years and that he knew of many Kurds who had been falsely accused of crimes and tortured or murdered in his homeland since a military coup in 1980.
Mr. Kildag said he had never returned to Turkey, even to visit his family, because he feared for his safety.
He accepted that police had contacted him in the 1990s, but said he was unaware of any specific allegation against him until an extradition request was sent to German authorities in 2015.
The extradition request was refused by the German Ministry of Justice.
Mr. Kildag’s wife, Ute Kildag, also gave evidence, telling the court the couple had met in 1984 and married in late 1985. She said the couple had a 2-year-old son and she was four months pregnant with her daughter in April 1988, when the alleged offenses are said to have occurred.
She said her husband had never left the country and had not left their home, “not even for a day” during her pregnancy. She also unearthed records from a driving school in Germany, which show he was taking regular driving lessons between March and July of that year.
She was unable to obtain other records, including medical, dental and insurance documents, she said, because they were no longer available 30 years later.
Mr. Kildag’s brother and sister-in-law also provided statements to the court that he was in Germany in April 1988 when the offenses were said to have taken place. Cheryll Richards, director of public prosecutions, outlined the evidence supplied by Turkish authorities. She said a warrant had first been issued for Mr. Kildag’s arrest in 1990 on the basis of a witness who had identified him as being one of a group of men involved in events leading to the burning of the two primary schools and the killing of two people.
She said the Turkish authorities had attempted to explain the 24-year delay in issuing an international arrest warrant by referring to a jurisdictional mix-up between two different courts. The international warrant was issued in May 2014, she said.
Ms. Richards said at this stage in the hearing it was for the court to decide whether the delays in attempting to bring a prosecution amounted to “injustice or oppression.”
She said, “The question for the court is, given the extremely serious nature of the offenses with which Mr. Kildag is charged in Turkey, whether it would be unjust or oppressive to return him, in light of the factual matrix which is before Your Honor.”
Laurence Aiolfi, representing Mr. Kildag, described the explanation for the delay from the Turkish authorities as “gobbledegook” and said it would be impossible for his client to get a fair trial in Turkey after so much time had passed. He said Mr. Kildag was not a fugitive from justice and had been unaware of any charges against him until 2015.
“It is Turkey who bears responsibility for the record-breaking, exceptional delay in this case,” he said. He said his client’s defense was that he was living in another country. Had the case been brought in a timely fashion, he said, it would have been easy to call witnesses and cite public records to show he was in Germany and had not clandestinely entered Turkey to commit the offenses on the dates alleged.
After nearly three decades, he said, such evidence was not available. If the magistrate does decide that the length of time that has passed will not prevent Mr. Kildag from getting a fair trial in Turkey, he will not automatically be extradited. There will still be an opportunity for his attorney to prove he should not be extradited for other reasons, potentially including the human rights record of the current Turkish regime.