Reliable sources: 6 abducted Turkish educators still kept in Kosovo

The reliable local sources in Kosovo informed Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) on Thursday that the detained 5 Turkish educators and an academician have not been deported from Kosovo yet and still kept in the country. Accoding to the local sources, Turkish authorities have prepared a fake news about deportation of the 6 Turkish citizens to alleviate the international pressures on Kosovo government to assure a fait accompli.

Leutrim Syla, a lawyer representing six arrested Turkish citizens, also said late on Thursday that his clients are still in Kosovo, calling on Kosovar leaders to stop their deportation to Turkey.

“Regardless of Turkish media coverage, we have received credible information that our clients Orhan Özkan and 5 other Turkish citizens are being kept Kosovo and have not been transferred to Turkey yet,” Syla said in a written statement on Twitter.

“We look forward political leadership of Kosovo to step up and show leadership by stopping this deportation if our clients are still in Kosovo as mentioned. We are very concerned and worried about the safety of our clients,” he added.

Syla underlined that his clients, Cihan Ozkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Mustafa Erdem, Osman Karakaya and Yusuf Karabina, will most likely face torture or ill treatment and harsh punishment if they are deported to Turkey.

It was previously claimed by Turkish official media that Turkey’s notorious National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) transferred the six Turkish educators who were detained by Kosovo police early Thursday morning in Gajakova province of Kosovo. Despite of all of the abducted Turkish educators have resident permits in Kosovo until 2022.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency also reported that the abducted General Director of Gülistan Education Institution Mustafa Erdem, Vice Director Yusuf Karabina, the principal of the school in Gjakova, Kahraman Demirez, two Gjakova teachers Cihan Özkan, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan and cardiology professor Osman Karakaya were taken to Turkey by a private jet through a MİT operation. However, reliable local sources reported that the abducted 5 educators and the academician have still been kept in the Pristina.

Kosovo police detained 5 Turkish educators who are the employees of Mehmet Akif schools in Kosovo, and an academician early Thursday morning over their alleged links to the Gülen movement under the sheer pressure of Turkish government led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to a report by Pristina Insight, the Kosovo Police detained three Turkish teachers in Gjakova and two Turkish teachers in Prizren.

According to information taken by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) from Kosovo, Yusuf Karabina, the Vice Director of Gülistan Educational Institutions, his wife Yasemin Karabina and his 15-year-old son were stopped by Kosovo police at 8:30 on Thursday morning. Karabina Family reportedly resisted the plain-cloth police officers since they thought that they could be the agents of the notorious Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MİT). So, the three members of Karabina Family were reportedly beaten by Kosovo police during their detention.

As Yusuf Karabina was taken to the police station, simultaneously Kahraman Demirez, the principal of Mehmet Akif College in Gjakova and teachers Cihan Özkan and Hasan Hüseyin Günakan were also detained by Kosovo police. Mustafa Erdem, the General Director of Gülistan Educational Institutions, was also taken into custody as he visited the police station to get information about the situation of the detained Turkish teachers.

Prof. Dr. Osman Karakaya

It was also learned that Turkish cardiology professor Osman Karakaya, who moved to Kosovo to escape the persecution of Erdoğan regime in Turkey, was also detained by Kosovo police on Thursday morning.

Turkish government claims the Gülistan Educational Institutions, which operate four Mehmet Akif elementary and high schools in Kosovo, are affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Months ago, Kosovo Police arrested Uğur Toksoy, an educator with alleged links to the Gülen movement. Kosovo eventually withdrew its request to extradite Toksoy to Turkey, but the ordeal still sent waves throughout Kosovo’s Turkish community, some of whom told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) that they fled to Kosovo hoping to escape Turkish government’s crackdowns on the press and individuals and groups with ties to the movement.

The Gülistan Educational Institution confirmed that the detained are the General Director Mustafa Erdem, Vice Director Yusuf Karabina, the principal of the school in Gjakova, Kahraman Demirez, and two Gjakova teachers Cihan Özkan and Hasan Hüseyin Günakan.

According to a report by Pristina Insight, School officials said in a press release that they do not currently know the location of the detainees and the reason for their detentions. Nazmi Ulus, director of the Mehmet Akif College in Lipjan, said that all of the detainees have resident permits until 2022.

According to Turkish pro-government media, as a futile effort to manipulate the facts, Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj claimed that the expired residence permits of the 6 Turkish citizens were the cause of their detention. However, the ID cards of the abductees that SCF has published have proved that PM Haradinaj not reflecting the truth.

Moreover, the Brussels-based online news outlet Vocal Europe tweeted on Thursday that PM Haradinaj said he was not informed by any state institution about the deportation of six Turkish educators linked to the Gülen movement.

“Some of the elements of this operation are not clear including the urgency of the deportation,” Haradinaj wrote on his Facebook page.

PM Haradinaj also post a Twitter message in English on Thursday evening and said that “Today, in the operation conducted by Intelligence Agency, 6 Turk citizens have been deported. Myself, as the Prime Minister, was not informed about this operation, therefore I will act according to my legal and constitutional competencies.”

Later on Thursday, Haradinaj convened an urgent meeting of his Cabinet. He asked the heads of intelligence agencies and police departments, and the interior and justice ministers to report why authorities revoked the permits of the six Turks, and why they were arrested and deported “in urgency and in secrecy.”

Hundreds of Kosovars flooded to the airport to protest the detention of 5 Turkish teachers and an academician. Dozens of students of the schools also held a protest in downtown Pristina calling for the release of the six Turkish citizens.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, too, was “disillusioned how our relevant institutions” failed to protect foreign citizens working in Kosovo, adding that he learned about it after the arrest.

“We have been facing enormous pressure from the Turkish authorities in the past weeks to take actions against Gülen movement affiliated schools and their staff,” a Kosovo government senior official told Reuters in condition of anonymity.

Authorities in Kosovo, whose population is mainly Muslim, said earlier there were no plans to shut down the schools affiliated with the Gülen movement.

In a statement on Thursday, the Kosovar Interior Ministry said the residence permits of these six people had been revoked without providing any reasons. According to Kosovo law, the ministry can revoke the residence permits of individuals over security, criminal, health, public moral or human rights threats. Also, Kosovo Police spokesman Baki Kelani did not give further details but confirmed that “police are undertaking an operation.”

Lawyer Urim Vokshi said they were arrested after intelligence agents “identified them as dangerous, without offering any reason or proof.” “These are the effects of the Erdoğan regime in Balkan countries or in other Asian and African countries,” he told the Associated Press.

The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, or KMDLNJ, a human rights group in Kosovo, urged the government not to interfere in the fight between Erdoğan and the Gülen movement. “The KMDLNJ opposes the arrest of the Turkish citizens in Kosovo for political reasons and strongly opposes any effort of their extradition in the current circumstances,” it said a statement.

Leo Trim Syla, the lawyer of abducted Turkish teacher Cihan Özkan told SCF and stated that “Nobody gives us any information. Neither the President nor the Prime Minister made an official statement. Only the police said that they handed over the Turkish citizens to Turkey. Now we are going to protest the detention at the airport. We want information about the conditions of the teachers.”

Some Balkan countries have faced pressure from Erdoğan regime to close private schools linked with Gülen movement. But Kosovo, whose population is mainly Muslim, had said it had no plans to close down the schools affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Turkey is a major supporter of impoverished Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and Turkish firms run the tiny Balkan country’s sole airport and electricity network, and are building two highways worth around $2 billion.

At its peak, the Gülen movement operated schools in 170 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States. Since repressive Erdoğan regime in Turkey declared the movement a “terrorist organization” two years ago, it has pressured allies to shut down the establishments run by the Gülen movement.

Previously Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Georgia, Pakistan, Sudan and Myanmar handed over academics, businessmen and school principals over their alleged Gülen movement affiliations upon the Turkish government’s request despite the fact that some of those victims already had refugee status with the UN. The move drew harsh criticism from human rights organisations.

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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