Freedom House’s Schenkkan: Turkish government’s abductions in Kosovo shocking offense against int’l HR standards

The Turkish government’s abduction of six Turkish nationals from Kosovo is “a shocking offense against both international human rights standards and bilateral norms,” wrote Freedom House analyst Nate Schenkkan in a an article published by The Washington Post on Sunday.

On Thursday morning Turkish government abducted six Turkish nationals — educators Cihan Özkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Mustafa Erdem and Yusuf Karabina working for a group of schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in Kosovo, and Dr. Osman Karakaya. They were reportedly removed to Turkey the same day.

Nate Schenkkan

“As the alleged deportations began to look increasingly like outright abductions, they have become a real-time example of the threat posed by Ankara’s flagrant disregard for international norms. Countries that host Turkish citizens all over the world should be on notice that Ankara’s efforts to track down its opponents overseas poses a threat to their domestic rule of law,” wrote Schenkkan.

After summarising the abduction scandal Schenkkan said: “Their (5 teachers and a doctor) rights have clearly been violated. They were detained without access to a lawyer or the ability to contest the reasons for their detention and deportation. And they were rendered to the custody of a country where ill treatment and torture of the government’s opponents are common.”

“The idea that Turkish intelligence would brazenly abduct its citizens from a country with which it has putatively good relations is a shocking offense against both international human rights standards and bilateral norms,” Schenkkan wrote and added that “Turkey’s allies are once again witnessing just how Ankara values its bilateral relationships. The practice of taking citizens of its allies as hostages — as Turkey has done with Germany and the United States — was bad enough. Now Ankara is demonstrating its willingness to abduct Turkish citizens from a friendly country’s territory.”

“The Pristina abductions are merely the latest episode of Turkey’s global purge, the government’s campaign to pursue its opponents all over the world, which began in 2014 but has accelerated dramatically since the coup attempt of July 2016,” wrote Schenkkan. He said “In this time, Turkey has repeatedly resorted to extralegal means to target its perceived opponents abroad. Media monitoring shows at least 15 countries on three continents where Turkey’s pressure led to arrests or deportations. In five countries, Turkish citizens who had sought asylum were sent back to Turkey before their request was processed, a violation of international law.”

“In at least three other countries, Turkey’s intelligence agency appears to have been involved in operations to extra-judicially render people from other countries to Turkey. Turkey’s media has also previously reported about the formation of a special MİT team to hunt Gülenists abroad,” added Schenkkan.

The Turkish detention of foreign nationals as “hostages” to use in prisoner swaps is another example of a questionable tactic Turkey has used to secure the return of Turkish citizens who have fled abroad. All this, writes Schenkkan, should make foreign governments far more willing to accept the asylum claims of Turkish citizens and far less likely to respond positively to Turkey’s increasingly frequent extradition requests.

“Kosovo’s prime minister, president and chairman of parliament initially said that the operation was conducted without their knowledge,” Schenkkan said, adding, “The minister of interior and the head of Kosovo’s intelligence have already been dismissed, but the crisis may not stop there, as the events call into question the integrity of state institutions among Kosovars and the government’s subordination to foreign powers.”

“In his first speech referring to the operation on Friday, Erdoğan applauded the Kosovo operation, saying, ‘Wherever they may go, we will wrap them up and bring them here, God willing. And here they will be held to account,'” Schenkkan wrote and concluded that “Turkey is seemingly willing to violate international law to do just that. Every country where Turkish citizens seek refuge should be mindful.”

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 autocratic 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 more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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