A cruise ship tourist has spoken of his joy and relief after being told he will not be sent to Turkey to face trial for alleged terrorist activity nearly 30 years ago.
The decision of the Cayman Islands court Wednesday that Celal Kildag should not be extradited to his homeland brings to an end a four-month ordeal for the 58-year-old and his family.
Magistrate Grace Donalds said there was no adequate explanation from Turkish authorities for the 29-year delay in pursuing the charges, which include allegations that he was involved in the burning of a school and the murder of two people in 1988.
She said it would be “oppressive” to send Mr. Kildag, who denies any knowledge of the offenses and has lived in Germany since 1980, to Turkey to face trial.
Mr. Kildag looked stunned and relieved as the decision was announced, holding his face in his hands before embracing his wife, Ute, outside the courtroom.
He told the Cayman Compass, “It is a very emotional moment. I missed my family a lot. After such a long time, I am very happy.”
Mrs. Kildag said the couple had gone into debt to pay for the four-month legal fight and were anxious to return to Germany.
She said, “A massive weight has been taken off us. It was a huge burden for him, for me at home, for the children and the family, psychologically and financially.”
She said they had saved for a year to pay for the Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary. They flew from Germany to Cuba and boarded the MSC Opera, which stopped in Jamaica before calling in to George Town on Dec. 8.
Mr. Kildag was arrested after authorities in Grand Cayman spotted an international arrest warrant from Interpol citing allegations of murder and arson.
According to documents provided by Turkish authorities, a witness identified Mr. Kildag as being among a group of rebels from the separatist group PKK, which was involved in burning schools and murdering two teachers in the Tunceli region in 1988.
Mr. Kildag told the court he had lived in Germany since 1980, when a military coup plunged Turkey into chaos. He was granted asylum in Germany in 1982 and never returned to his homeland, fearing for his safety amid widespread persecution of Kurdish minorities.
Though he acknowledged he had been involved in “peaceful protests” as a teenager in Turkey and later in Germany, he denied any involvement with terrorist groups, including the PKK.
His wife testified that in April 1988, when the offenses are said to have taken place, she was four months pregnant with their second child and they were living together in Germany.
She said he had never left home, “not even for a day,” during her pregnancy. The couple provided travel documents to show Mr. Kildag had not been to Turkey during this time.
Speaking outside court, Mr. Kildag said it was “shocking” to be accused of such a horrific crime. He said he first became aware of the allegation in 2015 when the German authorities informed him they had turned down an extradition request from Turkey.
During the court proceedings, he said it was not uncommon in Turkey for false allegations to be leveled at members of the Kurdish community because of their political beliefs.
Mrs. Kildag said they had been unable to clarify whether the alleged crimes in Tunceli even occurred.
She said, “In Germany we did not know anything about the alleged incident or whether it happened or not. The allegations were not credible. We could not believe it because he was with us the whole time.”
After their ordeal in the Cayman Islands, Mrs. Kildag said the couple has no plans to travel in the near future.
“Germany is a very beautiful country as well and we will spend holidays in our own country.”
She added that the ordeal had taken its toll financially and emotionally.
“We saved up for this cruise holiday for over a year,” Mrs. Kildag said. “It was also our 31st wedding anniversary; we celebrated on the ship. When this happened and I had to return home, everything fell apart financially.”
“We had to pay for several lawyers. I had to pay for his accommodation because only I had an income. He no longer received money from his work. I am massively in debt as a result of this,” she added.
Despite their experience, Mr. Kildag said he had no complaints about his treatment in Cayman.
“I am very satisfied with the authorities, the court and the people in Cayman.”
He said he was treated humanely and compassionately with a desire to help.
“Everyone was very kind.”
Cayman Compass reporter Michael Klein contributed to this story.