Teachers fleeing Ankara’s crackdown to be deported to Bulgaria by Germany, fear possible extradition by Sofia

A German court has rejected the asylum applications of two Turkish teachers who worked for schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in Vietnam, ruling to deport them to Bulgaria, where they face extradition to Turkey, Turkish Minute reported, citing Bold Medya news website.

Jülide Çetin and Şeyma Demirel, who worked as English teachers at Horizon International Bilingual School in Hanoi, arrived in Germany on June 18 with a Schengen visa issued by Bulgaria and applied for asylum in the country. They have been kept at the airport for 36 days and say they await deportation within four or five days.

The teachers claim they will not be safe in Bulgaria as the country has deported at least seven asylum seekers with links to Gülen movement to Turkey, where they faced prosecution.

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. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.

The teachers said they went to Germany because they were not safe in Vietnam after Turkish intelligence illegally renditioned Gülen movement supporters from neighboring countries Thailand, Malesia, Myanmar and Indonesia.

Over the past five years scores of people alleged by Turkish authorities to have links to the Gülen movement, living in countries around the world, have been arbitrarily detained and forcibly returned to Turkey. There they are incarcerated on bogus terrorism charges in violation of due process rights and protections.

A recent report by Freedom House on transnational repression states that 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 host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since July 2016.

“Ankara’s campaign has primarily targeted people affiliated with the movement of religious leader Fethullah Gülen, which the government blames for the coup attempt,” the report said.

According to a joint letter written by four UN rapporteurs dated May 2020, the abductions carried out by MİT tend to follow a similar pattern. After Turkey fails to secure a legal extradition, authorities resort to illegal covert operations. Targeted individuals are placed under “around-the-clock surveillance, followed by house raids and arbitrary arrests in undercover operations by law enforcement or intelligence officers in plainclothes,” the letter explained.

Once arrested, the target is taken to an unmarked vehicle by force, after which they can remain forcibly disappeared for up to several weeks before deportation.

“During that period they are often subjected to coercion, torture and degrading treatment aimed at obtaining their consent on voluntary return and at extracting confessions that would inform criminal prosecution upon arrival in Turkey,” the letter said.

Turkish operatives tend to use a variety of torture methods to obtain these forced confessions, including food and sleep deprivation, waterboarding, electric shocks and beatings, the rapporteurs wrote in the letter based on personal testimonies.

“This is coupled with threats against lives, security and personal integrity of family members and relatives,” the UN rapporteurs said. 

Case of Abdullah Büyük

Businessman Abdullah Büyük, facing prosecution in Turkey over Gülen links, moved to Bulgaria in 2016, imagining the country would be safe for him as an EU member state.

Bulgarian courts denied an extradition request from Turkey for Büyük. However, the Turkish foreign minister announced publicly that they planned to bring “a person of interest” back from Bulgaria.

On his way to a meeting in Sofia, police blocked Büyük’s vehicle. Bulgarians drove him 180 miles to the border, where they handed him over to Turkish authorities.

In a draft report on Turkey prepared by the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee the members of the European Parliament strongly condemned “forced extraditions, kidnapping and abduction of Turkish citizens residing outside Turkey on the sole basis of their alleged links to the Gülen movement” and urged the European Union to address the “worrying” practice in its own member states, notably in Bulgaria.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday ruled that Bulgaria violated the rights of a Turkish journalist who had fled Ankara’s crackdown on dissent by deporting him without examining his asylum request.

ECtHR said Bulgaria was in breach of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the payment of 15,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages to the applicant, D, whose name was not revealed.

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