Teacher Sökmen sent to jail in Turkey after forced return from Myanmar

Muhammet Furkan Sökmen, a Turkish teacher who was forcibly and illegaly returned to Turkey from Maynmar despite his cries for help on social media, was arrested by a Turkish court and sent to a prison in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay on Monday. Sökmen was working for two schools established and operated by the followers of the Gülen movement in Myanmar.

Sökmen had called for “help from the world” in a video recording he posted on social media minutes before he was handed over to Turkish authorities at Yangon International Airport by Myanmar police on May 26. According to another video he earlier posted on social media, Sökmen, his wife Ayşe and daughter Sibel were detained by local immigration officials who told the family that Turkish government had invalidated their passports.

According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Sökmen was first forcibly deported to Bangkok, Thailand on May 24.

“They take me to Bangkok. I am at the airport now. If they send me to Turkey, I will be prisoned and most probably tortured like many other tortured under the currency regime. …I am asking for international protection,” Sökmen had said in another video. Despite his calls, he was taken back to İstanbul with Turkish police in company, in a Turkish Airlines flight.

As an executive at the Horizon International Schools, Sökmen is also a partner of the Mediterranean International Education Services Co. Ltd, both based in Myanmar.

In a statement on May 26, Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch had said that “Both Myanmar and Thailand had the opportunity to do the right thing and provide this school administrator with access to #UNHCR so that his serious fears of persecution and possible torture if returned to Turkey could be examined. To do so would have been both humane and rights respecting, but both governments took the apparently cynical view that Turkey can do whatever it wants with its citizens, even those residing legally in other countries.

“Government leaders in #Yangon and #Bangkok have instead shamelessly chose to play the role of willing handmaidens to Turkey’s rights abusing campaign to strip its own citizens of their passports and force them back to a fate that could include possible torture, long pre-trial detention, and trials on trumped up charges before courts where proceedings are likely to be neither free nor fair.

“As a result, Furkan Sökmen will begin Ramadan this year in prison, separated from his wife and infant daughter, facing an uncertain but certainly very grim fate.

“His pleas sent in a video to HRW and others around the world from the Suvarnnaphum airport lock-up, to not be sent back to #Turkey speak for themselves. His voice stands as an indictment of #Thailand and #Myanmar’s cynical disparagement of the right of people to refuge and protection from political persecution.”

Turkey has already detained more than 150,000 people over their alleged ties to the movement at home before spreading its crackdown to overseas.

A military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s 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.

According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, 154,694 individuals have been detained and 50,136 have been jailed due to alleged Gülen links since the failed coup attempt. Law enforcement have  also caught hundreds of people attempting to illegally leave Turkey to neighboring countries so far. Not satisfied with dismissals, Turkish government cancelled passports of thousands of people while putting travel ban on many others.

June 6, 2017

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