ECtHR questions Azerbaijani gov’t on illegal deportation of Turkish teacher over Gülen links

Taci Şentürk

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has questioned the Azerbaijani government over the illegal deportation of Turkish national Taci Şentürk at the request of the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over his alleged links to the Gülen movement in 2017.

Taci Şentürk, a Turkish teacher who was working in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, had been taken by Azeri police to an unknown place after UN officials stopped his deportation to Turkey at Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport on June 7, his wife Fatma Şentürk said. It was later learned that Taci Şentürk was illegally detained and deported from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

The ECtHR has summarised the case of Taci Şentürk as follows:  

Taci Şentürk, a Turkish national, who was born in 1976 and at the time of the events lived in Azerbaijan, moved to Azerbaijan where he worked in private schools affiliated to the Gülen movement. He was granted a temporary residence permit which was regularly extended. On March 9, 2017 his temporary residence permit was extended de novo until September 9, 2017.

On June 3, 2017 the Turkish authorities informed Azerbaijani counterparts via Interpol that the applicant’s passport had been cancelled and therefore requested the Azerbaijani authorities to arrest and deport the applicant to Turkey.

At about 2.00 p.m. on June 7, 2017, Şentürk was arrested and brought to the temporary detention facility of the Organised Crime Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (“the OCD”) where he was informed that he would be taken to Baku International Airport and deported to Turkey at 8.30 p.m. on the same day. Şentürk informed officers of the OCD about his intention to request asylum in Azerbaijan on the ground of his persecution in Turkey and repeatedly asked the officers not to deport him. However, his demands were ignored.

While in detention, Şentürk informed his wife and friends about his arrest and imminent removal. His friends retained a lawyer who applied on the applicant’s behalf for asylum to the UNHCR Baku Office, the State Migration Service (“the SMS”), the OCD and to the Office for Affairs of Refugees and Displaced Persons, asking to grant the applicant refuges status due the risk of him being subjected to persecution and ill-treatment in Turkey.

On the same date the UNHCR Baku Office issued a temporary protection letter with respect to Şentürk, his wife and their four children, valid until September 7, 2017, on the basis of the fact that they were registered with the UNHCR and their asylum request was under consideration by the national authorities.

At 8.30 p.m. on the same day Taci Şentürk’s wife, children and friends arrived at the airport, apparently in the attempt to prevent his deportation. He was able to speak to his family members and friends for five minutes. Afterwards, he was led away by the OCD officers to proceed with boarding the plane for the scheduled flight. At the customs and border control, Şentürk informed the officer on duty from the State Border Service that he was seeking asylum in Azerbaijan. The officer in question called a representative from the SMS and the applicant reiterated his request. However, according to Şentürk the representative of the SMS ignored his request.

At some point, while Şentürk was already in the boarding area, the Representative of the UNHCR in Azerbaijan, Furio De Angelis, arrived at the airport and intervened with a view to preventing Şentürk’s removal. As a result, Şentürk was not put on the plane and was taken back to the detention facility of the OCD.

At about 11.00 p.m. on the same day, Şentürk’s lawyer came to the detention facility to meet him, but he was not allowed to do so.

On June 8, 2017, Şentürk lawyer applied to the SMS with a written request to grant him refugee status. There is no information about the outcome of this request.

On the same date, without informing the UNHCR Baku office and Şentürk’s family, the OCD officers took him again to Baku International Airport and put him on a plane to Ankara. Upon arrival to Ankara, Taci Şentürk was arrested by the Turkish police and sent to Konya where he was remanded in custody in connection with criminal investigation into his alleged involvement in the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, his wife, who was not aware at the time about Şentürk’s removal, applied to various authorities concerning his whereabouts. On June 23, 2017 the State Border Service informed Şentürk’s wife that her husband had been deported to Turkey on June 8, 2017.

On July 6, 2017 the OCD also informed Şentürk’s wife that her husband “left Azerbaijan” for Turkey on June 8, 2017 due to the fact that the Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant against him because he was suspected of being involved in FETÖ/PDY.

FETÖ/PDY is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

In the light of Şentürk’s claims and the available information, ECtHR has asked Azerbaijan government that did Şentürk’s forcible removal to Turkey expose him to a real risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention?

Was his deprived of his liberty in breach of Article 5 § 1 (f) of the Convention? In particular, has Şentürk’s detention between June 7-8, 2017 been “in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law” and based on any judicial or administrative decision?

Did Şentürk have at his disposal an effective procedure by which he could challenge the lawfulness of his detention pending deportation, as required by Article 5 § 4 of the Convention?

Did Şentürk have an arguable claim under Article 3 of the Convention for the purposes of his complaint under Article 13 of the Convention? If so, did he have at his disposal an effective domestic remedy, as required by Article 13 of the Convention, by which he could have challenged his deportation on the grounds that he would risk being subjected to torture or ill-treatment if deported? If yes, did such a remedy provide guarantees of accessibility, quality, speed and suspensive effect? The Azeri Government are also invited to refer to specific provisions of domestic law and to provide relevant examples from the case-law of the domestic courts in this respect.

Was Taco Şentürk’s deportation to Turkey in compliance with the requirements of Article 1 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention? The Azeri Government are also requested to provide all documents concerning Şentürk’s detention, deportation and his asylum application.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on July 16, 2018 that over 100 alleged members of the Gülen movement have been abducted abroad by MİT and brought back to Turkey as part of the Turkish government’s global manhunt.

“We have been watching these traitors for two years and have brought the leading figures of FETÖ to our country. Some of these cases were covered by press, while others weren’t at the request of the countries involved. I can frankly say that more than 100 FETÖ-affiliated people have been brought to Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu said in an interview with Turkey’s pro-government CNN Türk.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organisation,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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