The Cayman Islands is a wonderful place to visit, whether it’s for a few short hours off a cruise ship or on an extended stay-over vacation. Our population takes great pride in our “CaymanKind” hospitality and our reputation for being able to attract “repeat visitors.”
We will not take umbrage, however, if one particular person chooses never to return to our shores – German cruise ship tourist Celal Kildag, whose “three-hour tour” was extended to four months as he awaited a local court’s decision that could have sent him off to a Turkish prison … or worse.
Mr. Kildag, who is originally from Turkey but has lived in Germany since 1980, stepped off the MSC Opera onto Grand Cayman on Dec. 8, when he was arrested by Cayman authorities on an international arrest warrant, citing allegations of terror, murder and arson.
In brief, Turkish authorities sought to have Mr. Kildag extradited to Turkey in order to face charges that he was involved in the burning of a school and the murder of two people in 1988 by a separatist group called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
Mr. Kildag denied any involvement or knowledge of the offenses, and evidence was provided in court that he had not been in Turkey during that time.
Cayman Magistrate Grace Donalds determined that Turkish authorities failed to explain why they had delayed pursuing charges against Mr. Kildag for 29 years and said it would be “oppressive” to send him to Turkey for trial.
Well done, Magistrate Donalds.
We will not attempt to speak to the legal points, which the magistrate has more than adequately assessed. Rather, from a strictly humane, moral and ethical perspective, it would seem – not only “oppressive” – but just plain wrong for us to turn Mr. Kildag over to an authoritarian power that has repeatedly demonstrated its hostility to certain ethnic groups, such as Kurdish people like Mr. Kildag, and to professional classes, such as journalists – as well as judges.
Since a failed coup attempt against him last July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has conducted a crackdown against individuals and groups who may be suspected of disloyalty, leading to some 40,000 arrests and 110,000 suspensions or dismissals from public posts.
Considering the circumstances and the scant evidence floated against him, sending Mr. Kildag to Turkey would have made Cayman culpable for whatever wrongs he suffered as a result. Fortunately, on Wednesday in Cayman’s court, wiser heads prevailed.
Setting aside treaties, conventions and the ubiquitous “international obligations,” and at the risk of being simplistic, we all generally know who the “good” countries are, and who the … well … “not so good” countries are, in terms of their governments’ regard for basic human rights.
The Erdogan administration in Turkey plainly falls in the latter category, along with (to varying degrees) Russia, Syria, Venezuela, China, and our dear neighbor to the north, Cuba.
Before we laud ourselves too lavishly for our humanitarian accomplishments, we would do well to remember the situation off Fairbanks Road, at the immigration detention center for Cuban migrants who land on our shores.
Putting aside the conditions at the facility itself, we are particularly concerned about the bureaucratic inertia that results in migrants being detained for many months, in asylum applications being delayed interminably, and, eventually, in people being forced back to an oppressive country they were willing to risk their lives to flee.
A better – and more humane – solution is currently under discussion with the Cuban authorities. We hope so. It’s long overdue.