Turkey, Kosovo violated fundamental rights of expelled teachers: UN working group

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of six Turkish teachers by Kosovar and Turkish state agents in Kosovo on March 29, 2018 was arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards, Turkish Minute reported.

Kahraman Demirez, Mustafa Erdem, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Yusuf Karabina, Osman Karakaya and Cihan Özkan were arrested in Kosovo at Turkey’s request in March 2018 over alleged links to Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, and forcibly transported to Turkey.

WGAD held that Kosovar and Turkish authorities’ deprivation of liberty of the six Turkish citizens was in contravention of the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security, the right to an effective remedy, the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The UN working group called on Ankara to release the six individuals immediately and the Turkish and Kosovar governments to accord the victims an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.

“In the current context of the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the threat that it poses in places of detention, the Working Group calls upon the Government of Turkey to take urgent action to ensure the immediate release of the six individuals,” the WGAD press release said.

Ankara said the six had helped alleged followers of the Gülen movement who had fled persecution in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the 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.

As part of the crackdown Erdoğan dismissed some 130,000 civil servants including police officers, teachers, doctors and academics as well as 20,571 members of the armed forces by emergency decree-laws, locking up tens of thousands and seizing their assets.

According to the UN report, the entire operation was planned and carried out by the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, which had assumed police authority and taken control of police offices, contrary to domestic and international legal procedure standards.

“Agency agents also issued orders to border control officers at the airport and it was the Agency, not the Ministry of the Interior, that obtained the airplane tickets and handled all the logistics of the transfer,” it said.

Mr. Demirez, Mr. Erdem, Mr. Günakan, Mr. Karabina, Mr. Karakaya and Mr. Özkan were handed over to the Turkish agents at Pristina International Airport, the report said.

Days after the six men were expelled, Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, dismissed the country’s interior minister and secret service chief because he was not told the six would be deported to Turkey.

A parliamentary commission report concluded that the deportation was illegal and that the constitution was violated 31 times during the arrests.

Kosovo’s opposition has accused President Hashim Thaci of ordering the deportations because of his close relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thaci has denied any wrongdoing.

Günakan, one of the six, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

In its opinion WGAD stated that during the past three years it has noted a significant increase in the number of cases brought before it concerning arbitrary detentions in Turkey. Expressing “grave concern” about this pattern, the working group underlined that “under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.”

WGAD said it observed a pattern of targeting those with alleged links to the Gülen movement on the discriminatory basis of their political or other opinion. The working group found that the Turkish government detained the six individuals based on a prohibited ground for discrimination and referred the case to the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

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