Fifth Turkish national detained in Malaysia as Najib Razak ramps up persecution of Erdoğan critics

İsmet Özçelik

A fifth case of arbitrary detention of a Turkish national by Malaysian authorities as part of escalating witch-hunt persecution of critics abroad by Turkey’s government has been exposed.

İsmet Özçelik (58), a Turkish academic who has been in Malaysia and waiting for the resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was detained by the police on May 4, 2017.

His detention appears to have been instigated upon a request by Turkish government that has jailed almost 50,000 people in the last eight months alone on trumped-up charges to crack down on opponents and dissidents of Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime. The United Nations, the Council of Europe (CoE) as well the non-governmental organizations have all criticized Turkish government for mass purges, detentions, abusing criminal justice system and silencing critical and independent media.

Özçelik’s detention followed four other cases of Turkish nationals who were arbitrarily detained in what family and friends claimed as abductions by unidentified gunmen on broad daylight on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Two of them were forcibly removed from Malaysia, handed over to Turkish authorities under extraordinary rendition and now are subjected to torture and abuse in Ankara’s notorious Sincan Prison.

Turkish academic İsmet Özçelik has been waiting for the resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“He has Refugee Card from UNHCR. My father is still under protection of UNHCR in Malaysia. I’m waiting for all human rights institution to help. There is no statement from Malaysian authorities about my father,” Suat Özçelik, a journalist and son of İsmet Özçelik, tweeted on Thursday, calling on international rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) monitor the developments.

On Dec.13, 2016, İsmet Özçelik faced an attempted abduction from the home of his son in Kuala Lumpur when unidentified gunmen, appeared to be linked to security services of Malaysia, showed at the door at the request of Turkish security services that wanted to whisk away to Turkey. Police called in on the scene when his family and lawyers intervened with the attempted abduction that halted his extraordinary rendition. He was kept in jail for 50 days before Malaysian authorities decided to release him pending trial.

However Malay authorities detained him again on Thursday along with his son, Süheyl Özçelik, another Turkish citizen, Erdem Eroğlu, and two other Malay citizens. İsmet Özçelik, who suffers from heart problems and has diabetes, was jailed while others were let go. Police also raided his son’s house on Thursday, crushing the door and ransacking the place while Süheyl’s wife and two small kids, one is a month old baby, were crying in a fear of terror.

Malaysian police confirmed on Friday the detention of Özçelik over allegations of “a threat to national security.” Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that the arrest was made at 4.30 p.m. local time (0830GMT) at a fuel station in eastern state of Pahang. “He was not involved in terror activities throughout his 12-year stay here before this. But when he began to get involved, we [police] acted,” he said.

The police chief denied that his department had acted on the Turkish government’s orders in arresting Özcelik and two other Turkish nationals, Turgay Karaman and İhsan Aslan. He claimed, “We have our own laws to protect national security. We have the right to determine who we want to arrest and detain. Anyone who threatens our national security is not welcome here.”

Turgay Karaman, the principal of Time International School (Ipoh), was reported to have been kidnapped on May 2, 2017, by five unknown people at the parking lot of Wisma E & C, a 16-story high-rise building where he came to attend for a meeting. The CCTV camera footages showed he was taken away after he exited from his car at the Basement No.5 of the building. Karaman was scheduled to offer his testimony as a defense witness in a trial hearing of the criminal case that was to be held on May 3rd.

His friends filed a missing person report with the police when they could not reach him on the phone after Karaman did not show up for a meeting at the lawyers’ office in the afternoon of May 2. They later found that his Toyota brand car was abandoned in a parking lot. The United Nation’s office in Kuala Lumpur was also alerted about possible abduction of a foreign national in Malaysia by clandestine groups operating on behalf of Turkish government.

Another Turkish national named İhsan Arslan, 39 years old businessman, was reported missing by his wife who reported to the police that she has been unable to reach to her husband since 8 pm on May 1, 2017. Arslan, married to Malaysian national, is a member of Malaysian Turkish Chamber Of Commerce And Industry, a business advocacy group that is affiliated with Gülen movement which is major critic of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on corruption and Turkey’s arming and funding of Jihadist groups including Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or Daesh).

Although the police could not immediately locate their whereabouts, when the news of their abduction became a breaking story on international media, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a tweet On May 3  that both Karaman and Aslan were arrested yesterday in connection with activities that threatened national security. He said they were arrested under Section 130 of the Penal Code. It is reported that Karaman and Aslan were detained under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) – which allows for detention of suspects without trial.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the national police chief should grant the two men immediate access to their lawyers and families and give details of how they posed a threat to Malaysia.

The social media accounts connected to the Turkish government hailed the abductions of Turkish nationals, saying that Turkish intelligence has been involved in snatching critics in Malaysia. They threatened that other critics in foreign countries will end up in the same situation soon as Turkish intelligence will round up Erdoğan’s critics no matter where they are located around the world. Both Karaman and Aslan have been legally residing in Malaysia for 13 years and they have been involved with educational, charitable and intercultural dialogue activities. There is nothing to suggest that they were involved in any type of violence or terror.

Two other people, identified by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) as Alaettin Duman (45), one of founders of Time International School, and Tamer Tıbık (43), the General Secretary of the Malaysian Turkish Chamber Of Commerce And Industry, — also Turkish nationals and believed to be affiliated with the movement — were kidnapped in Malaysian soil last year. Their family members were unable to locate them or learned what happened until they turned up in Turkey.

It was later revealed that both Duman and Tıbık were taken to remote wooded areas, subjected to torture and abuse, and later turned over to Turkish officials to be taken back to Turkey. Both are currently locked up in Ankara’s Sincan Prison on trumped-up charges of terror. The UN and other intergovernmental organizations as well as credible NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Amnesty International all reported widespread torture and abuse cases in Turkish prisons and detention centers. There have been other attempted cases of kidnapping in Malaysia as well according to reports received by SCF.

SCF has learned that the harassment of Turkish nationals who are affiliated with the Gülen movement, inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, an advocate of interfaith dialogue and science education, is continuing unabated with Erdoğan reportedly striking a secret and unlawful deal with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to crack down on critics of Turkish President. The deal was allegedly sugarcoated by Erdoğan who offered to Malaysian Prime Minister with kickbacks and bribes.

On May 4, 2014, the police also came to the home of detained Turgay Karaman’s home to seize his passport, but wife, after consulting with the family lawyers refused to turn his passport to the officers. She later handed Turgay Karaman’s passport over to the police with legal counsel handling the delivery with official procedures. The police denied wife the access to see her husband who was detained at Ibu Pejabat Polis Bukit Aman.

Turkey’s use of its security and intelligence agencies to conduct abductions and arrests in foreign jurisdictions may also be considered as a crime against humanity under the UN system as in the case of North Korea that used abductions in a larger scale for decades. Turkish government officials have never disavowed this practice of international abductions and rather they proudly mentioned these cases as victories for the government and these remarks were widely reported in pro-government media.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu even bragged about some of these cases in one of his past speeches, and revealed that their abductions were made with personal pledge given to Erdoğan by the Malaysian Prime Minister.

Actions in Malaysia may run contrary to legal principles such as non-interference and arbitrary arrest and detention, violating not only Turkish laws but the host nation’s laws in the process as well. Even if the rights violation took place in Malaysia, Turkey may be liable for the ill-treatment of kidnapped Turkish nationals that were prohibited by the Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Abductees are subjected to deprivation of their liberties when they were repatriated to Turkey and went through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments. This practice may also give rise to allegations on the act of terror against the international community.

President Erdoğan has persistently voiced threats to those who have been forced to leave the country due to persecution and a witch-hunt, vowing that he will hunt them down and kill them in a public rallies that were broadcasted live and that were attended by tens of thousands of his die-hard fans. The abductions of Turkish citizens from Malaysia came against the background of Turkish President Erdoğan’s remarks which said on September 2016 that “no country or region around the world will ever be a safe haven for members of Gülen movement.”

Speaking at a rally in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Zonguldak on April 4, 2017, Erdoğan said: “We are purging every Gülenist in the army, in the police and in state institutions. And we will continue cleansing [these organizations of] them because we will eradicate this cancer from the body of this country and the state. They will not enjoy the right to life… Our fight against them will continue until the end. We won’t leave them wounded.”

The government started referring to the peaceful civic group Hizmet (popularly known as Gülen movement) as a terrorist organization (namely, the Gülenist Terror Group, or FETÖ), following the expose on major corruption investigations in December 2013 that implicated Erdoğan and his family members in billions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks.

Erdoğan started targeting Gülen and his movement openly after the corruption was exposed, and even accused Hizmet of being behind the failed coup of July 15 that he himself called as gift from the God. Gülen, however, rejected the accusations and has called for an independent international commission to be set up to investigate the coup attempt. The Turkish government has failed to present any direct evidence linking the cleric or the movement to the abortive coup.

On March 24, the Wall Street Journal exposed how Turkish government officials discussed about the illegal removal from the United States of Fethullah Gülen and his extrajudicial return to Turkey. While serving as an adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, also the ousted National Security Adviser of the new administration.

Details of the discussion in New York were learned from James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, who was in attendance, and from others who were briefed on the meeting in September 2016. Also in attendance at the meeting were Berat Albayrak, energy minister of Turkey and President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, according to foreign lobbying disclosure documents filed by Flynn with the Justice Department in March 2017.

Woolsey arrived at the meeting on Sept. 19 in the middle of discussions about the cleric and found the topic “startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal,” he told the WSJ, adding that the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” Woolsey said specific tactics for removing Gülen were not discussed, but if they had been, he “would have spoken up and questioned their legality.”

Erdoğan’s propagandists openly entertain abduction, kidnapping and even assassination of members of Gülen movement abroad in pro-government media without any repercussions and criminal liability.

A total of 113,260 people have been detained as part of investigations into the Gülen movement in the last eight months alone, while 47,155 were put into pre-trial detention. Over 135,000 government employees including judges, prosecutors, teachers, doctors, lawyers were purged by Turkish government by decrees that are not subject to any effective judicial and administrative probes.

May 5, 2017



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