Kosovar officials involved in illegal deportation of Turkish teachers face 5 years in prison

Three Kosovar officials involved in the illegal deportation of six Turkish teachers to Turkey on March 29, 2018 face five-year prison sentences in a trial that got underway on Wednesday, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Bold Medya news website.

According to a special report by Necdet Çelik of Bold Medya, a court in Pristina started proceedings against the three officials, who face accusations of “abuse of official position or authority” and “illegal deprivation of liberty.”

Driton Gashi, former head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, and Valon Krasniqi, director of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry, are accused of “abuse of official position or authority,” while Rrahman Sylejmani, head of the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners in the Kosovo Border Police, is accused of both “abuse of official position or authority” and “illegal deprivation of liberty.”

In 2021 the court rejected a request by the defendants’ lawyers to dismiss the indictment, underlining in its ruling that there was sufficient evidence supporting the claims that the defendants were involved in the illegal deportation of six Turkish teachers to Turkey in 2018.

The six teachers — Kahraman Demirez, Mustafa Erdem, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Yusuf Karabina, Osman Karakaya and Cihan Özkan — were arrested at Turkey’s request over alleged links to Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and forcibly transported to Turkey.

Saniye Özkan, wife of one of the teachers, spoke to Bold Medya about the ordeal and said that her husband, who is currently in a Turkish prison, asked her if Sylejmani was present at the hearing and said he was maltreated by him. 

Gashi was fired following the illegal deportation of the Turkish nationals, which the then-prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, claimed had happened without his knowledge. 

“It was very tense to be in the same room as the perpetrators. We could barely bear to hear their account of the story,” Saniye was quoted as saying.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

A report published by a Kosovo parliamentary commission in February 2019 had found that 31 violations of laws and procedures took place during the deportation. Members of the parliamentary commission authoring the report accused former president Hashim Thaci of being behind the incident.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded in September 2021 that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of the teachers by Kosovar and Turkish state agents were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

According to a report by Freedom House on global transnational repression, Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014. The Turkish government has pursued its perceived enemies in at least 30 different host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since a coup attempt in July 2016.

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