Kurdish man detained at Istanbul Airport feared abducted by Turkish intelligence

Photo Credit: Bahtiyar Fırat | MA

A Kurdish man who was detained at İstanbul Airport on October 13 and was told he was going to be handed over to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is feared to have been abducted, according to the Turkish media.

Bahtiyar Fırat, a school bus driver who lived in the southeastern city of Hakkari, was on his way to Tehran when he was detained by airport police. He was released a few hours later but had already missed his flight. On the way to a hotel, Fırat noticed his taxi was being followed by another car.

He immediately called his wife, Esra Fırat, and told her he was being followed and asked her to contact the public prosecutor’s office if she could not reach his phone. Esra Fırat claimed that she had not heard from her husband since this last call.

Fırat’s family went to İstanbul and contacted the public prosecutor’s office, where they were told Fırat had been detained by MİT and that they needed to be patient. According to the family, the prosecutor took over the case and said they did not know where he was but that an investigation was ongoing.

Esra Fırat said they were anxious about her husband’s well-being. “Even if he did commit a crime we need to know where he is. We have been waiting for the prosecutor to give us details about his situation for a week,” she added.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), asked about Fırat’s whereabouts in a tweet, saying: “Another abduction case!!! … Same as the previous ones. Where is the Ministry of Interior?”

Nearly 30 people have reportedly been abducted by Turkish intelligence since 2016. Two of them were able to flee the country and told foreign media about the torture they had endured during their enforced disappearances.

Most of the abductions after 2016 targeted members of the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup or any terrorist activity.

Seven people went missing under suspicious circumstances in Turkey in 2019. Six of them — Salim Zeybek, Erkan Irmak, Yasin Ugan, Özgür Kaya, Mustafa Yılmaz and Gökhan Türkmen — mysteriously reappeared in police custody in Ankara after six to nine-month absences. Salim Zeybek’s wife, Fatma Betül Zeybek, was with him when three men in a vehicle forced them to stop their car and abducted her husband.

Apparently intimated, all of them except two kept their silence after their reappearance. Türkmen, however, revealed in a court hearing on February 10, 2020 that he had been held incommunicado at a black site in Ankara run by Turkey’s intelligence agency and subjected to severe torture during his 271-day stay. Türkmen was the object of threats and was sexually harassed and abused during his enforced disappearance. He also alleged that he was visited in prison and threatened no less than six times by officials who introduced themselves as intelligence officers, pressuring him to retract his allegations of abduction and torture made at the February hearing.

The other man, Yasin Ugan, also testified at a court hearing on June 23 that he had been tortured for six months after being abducted on February 13, 2019 by security officers, with his head covered with a black plastic bag most of the time.

One of the men, Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who disappeared in broad daylight on August 6, 2019,

is still missing. All the efforts of his family and human rights defenders to find out what happened to him have proven to be of no avail.

The authorities have turned a deaf ear to inquiries from international courts and organizations concerning Tunç’s whereabouts, dismissing a UN query by saying that they were also searching for him while leaving questions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with an October 2020 deadline still unanswered.

According to Gergerlioğlu, the government will not respond to the ECtHR’s queries as was the case with the six other abductees.

“They reappeared all of a sudden in police custody just before the ECtHR deadlines passed,” he said.

In a recent joint letter UN special rapporteurs expressed their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals suspected of involvement with the Gülen movement from multiple States to Turkey.”

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