Iranian anti-hijab activist held in repatriation center in Turkey faces risk of deportation

Nasibe Shemsai, 36, an Iranian activist known for protesting the mandatory hijab law in Iran who fled to Turkey, is now in a repatriation center facing the possibility of deportation, Turkish media reported.

Shemsai was arrested at Istanbul Airport on November 5 as she was attempting to take a flight bound for Italy to reunite with her brother in the Netherlands. However, Shemsai was caught by airport police with a fake passport.

She was initially taken to a police station in İstanbul and then was transferred to a repatriation center in Edirne, a border province in northwestern Turkey.

Her lawyer, Uğur Özdemir, told journalist Nevşin Mengü that Shemsai had obtained a fake passport because her original passport had been confiscated by an Iranian court.

Shemsai had protested the Iranian laws that require women to wear a headscarf in public by taking off her headscarf and standing silently in public spaces.

She was also seen in a White Wednesday video in which she was handing out white flowers to female passengers on the Tehran metro, part of a social media campaign against the headscarf law.

Using the hashtag #whitewednesday, Iranian citizens have been posting pictures and videos of themselves wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing as symbols of protest.

She was initially detained for six months and then released pending trial. The court later sentenced her to 12 years in prison, and she crossed the border to Turkey.

Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) said legal proceedings were continuing against Shemsai.

Turkey maintains a geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention and only applies it to individuals from Council of Europe member states.

In April 2013 Turkey adopted a comprehensive, EU-inspired Law on Foreigners and International Protection. According to this law, Turkey has obligations towards all persons in need of protection, regardless of country origin.

Turkey registers non-Europeans as international protection applicants. According to DGMM figures 3,588 Iranians applied for international protection in Turkey last year.

However, Iranian journalists and activists have claimed that Turkey is far from being a safe destination for Iranian nationals because authorities in the two countries have been in close cooperation.

Maryam Shariatmadari, also an activist protesting the headscarf law, went to Turkey on a tourist visa after receiving a prison sentence in Iran for protesting. She was detained by Turkish authorities on September 7 because her visa expired

Shariatmadari was released from detention the next morning and was told she had 30 days to leave the country. She said on her social media account that she was afraid of being deported and called on Turkish authorities to allow her to remain in Turkey.

The National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), an activist group based in the US state of Maryland, said in a tweet that if deported, Shariatmadari could face torture and execution in Iran.

Last year Iranian nationals Saeed Tamjidi, 27, and Mohammad Rajabi, 25, who sought asylum in Turkey, were extradited to Iran by the Turkish government despite the knowledge that they could face the death penalty. Their death sentence was upheld by an Iranian court in June.

Peyman Aref, an Iranian journalist based in Brussels, talked to VOA and referred to previous extraditions. “Turkey and Iran have close intelligence cooperation. Turkey handed over many Iranian activists to Iran in recent years,” he said.

Human rights organizations have condemned Turkey’s decision to extradite Iranian asylum seekers.

“Even if only one person is forcibly deported, it is a sufficient reason for others to feel unsafe here,” Tarık Beyhan, the campaigns and communications director of Amnesty International’s Turkey office, told VOA.

Under international human rights law, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from transferring or removing individuals from their jurisdiction or effective control when there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations. Under international human rights law, the prohibition of refoulement is explicitly included in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

According to VOA, some experts have argued that the recent increase in cooperation between Iran and Turkey on foreign and security policy has prompted harsher treatment of Iranian refugees in Turkey.

Last September Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a virtual Turkey-Iran High-Level Cooperation Council meeting in which they agreed to take steps together in the region in the interest of both countries, including joint operations against militant groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Iranian wing, PJAK.

Both the PKK and PJAK are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and Turkey.

“As Turkish and Iranian leaders find greater common ground to join forces, there are also greater risks for Iranian nationals who have taken refuge in Turkey,” said Aykan Erdemir, the director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Turkish parliamentarian.

“The latest wave of deportations indicates that the Turkish government is likely to grant the Iranian regime greater room for maneuver in cracking down on dissidents,” Erdemir told VOA.

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