Turkey’s Transnational Repression: 2021 in Review

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long arm has reached tens of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad, from spying through diplomatic missions and pro-government diaspora organizations to denial of consular services and outright intimidation and illegal renditions.

Turkey’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government and its intelligence agency (MİT) persuade the targeted states to hand over individuals without due process. In some countries, Erdoğan critics were abducted and forcibly returned by MİT with the help of locals.

In 2021 Erdoğan continued to relentlessly pursue anyone with alleged links with the Gülen movement. They have been targets of hate speech, hate crimes, unlawful prosecution, torture and abduction, among other serious human rights violations.

Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states. According to a Freedom House report on global transnational repression, Ankara’s campaign primarily targets people affiliated with the movement, but the efforts of the government have recently expanded to include Kurds and leftists.

According to official statements by its interior ministry, Turkey has sent 800 extradition requests to 105 countries in the last four years, and more than 110 alleged members of the Gülen movement have been brought back to Turkey as part of the government’s global campaign.

During the year the Turkish government did not hesitate to refer to extrajudicial and illegal methods as part of its propaganda, with Erdoğan mentioning the forcible return of Turkish nationals in his speeches as part of the country’s counterterrorism success.

Abduction, Rendition and Forcible Return of Erdoğan Critics

Kenya

President Erdoğan revealed in televised remarks on May 19, 2021 that they had recently apprehended an important member of the Gülen movement, adding that he would soon announce that person’s identity. Hours after Erdoğan’s revelation, Seriyye Gülen released a video on YouTube in which she said her husband, Selahattin Gülen, a teacher, went missing on May 3 in Kenya, where he had been living for the past seven months. More …

Seriyye Gülen claimed that that her husband was kidnapped solely due to being a relative of Fethullah Gülen, calling on authorities to find Selahattin Gülen and release him immediately.

On May 6, 2021 a Kiambu court ruled that he not be arrested, extradited or deported, and the Kenyan interior secretary and inspector general of police were ordered to appear before the court to explain the whereabouts of Selahaddin Gülen. More …

The pro-Turkish government media on May 31, 2021 confirmed the operation and his forcible transfer to Turkey. The Anadolu news agency reported that Selahattin Gülen was brought back to Turkey by MİT agents, quoting unnamed security sources. The agency published a photograph of the detainee in handcuffs with a Turkish flag on either side but did not say whether the MİT operation took place with the coordination of the host country. More …

Kyrgyzstan

Orhan İnandı is the latest victim in a series of cases in which Turkey’s intelligence service was involved in unlawfully transferring people to Turkey from countries around the world. İnandı, who was the founder and director of the prestigious Sapat school network operating in Kyrgyzstan, went missing on May 31 and was feared to have been abducted by MİT due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement. More …

However, President Erdoğan had acknowledged in a statement following a Cabinet meeting on July 5 that İnandı was actually rendered to Turkey by MİT, lauding the Turkish spies’ efforts in the rendition. More …

Photos of İnandı in handcuffs with Turkish flags prompted allegations of torture due to İnandı’s visible weight loss and swollen right hand. More …

An Ankara court on July 12 ruled to arrest İnandı on charges of serving as an executive of a terrorist organization. More …

His wife Reyhan İnandı said in a tweet that her husband was tortured and his right arm broken in three places by Turkish security officers. According to his wife, Orhan İnandı had not received timely medical treatment and as a result was unable to use his right arm. More…

Human Rights Watch released a statement on July 7 following President Erdoğan’s announcement about İnandı, saying that the abduction, forcible disappearance and extrajudicial transfer of educator İnandı to Turkey by Turkish and Kyrgyz authorities amounted to egregious violations of international and domestic law. More …

Teachers working at schools linked to Gülen movement were deported to Turkey from Ukraine

Two Turkish teachers, Salih Fidan and Samet Güre, who were detained in the Ukrainian city of Rava-Ruska on New Year’s Day, were deported to Turkey by Ukrainian authorities despite anger on social media against their potential removal.

They had traveled to Kyiv 51 days earlier to make their way to Europe to seek asylum because their Turkish passports were about to expire and they feared Turkish authorities would not renew them. More …

Turkey sought extradition of dissidents living abroad

Muaz Türkyılmaz, a Turkish businessman who was arrested at the airport as he was leaving Panama, faced extradition to Turkey. The Turkish Embassy in Panama City intensified its démarches for the extradition of Türkyılmaz on trumped-up terrorism charges due to his alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

Muaz Türkyılmaz

Türkyılmaz was accused by Turkish authorities of downloading the ByLock smart phone application, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, depositing money in a now-closed Gülen-linked bank and donating to the now-shuttered Kimse Yok Mu charity. More …

The Turkish government ramped up its efforts to file an extradition request for dissident academic and journalist Mahmut Akpınar, who took shelter in the United Kingdom to escape fabricated charges of terrorism. More …

Kosovo tried individuals involved in illegal deportation of Turkish teachers in 2018

Kosovar authorities indicted three individuals involved in the illegal deportation of six Turkish teachers to Turkey on March 29, 2018. The three are Driton Gashi, former head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency; Valon Krasniqi, director of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry; and Rrahman Sylejmani, head of the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners at the Kosovo Border Police. More …

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded in September 2020 that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of the teachers by Kosovar and Turkish state agents were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

Freedom House report showed extent of Turkey’s policy of transnational repression

A report by Freedom House on global transnational repression revealed the intensity, geographic reach and suddenness of the Turkish government’s campaign targeting dissidents abroad, noting that Turkey had become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014.

The report, titled “Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach,” indicated that the Turkish government pursued its perceived enemies in at least 30 different host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since a coup attempt in July 2016. More …

SCF released reports and interviews on Turkey’s practice of transnational repression

SCF released a report in October titled “Turkey’s Transnational Repression: Abduction, Rendition and Forcible Return of Erdoğan Critics,” a study that focused on how the Turkish government under President Erdoğan used extrajudicial and illegal methods for the forcible transfer to Turkey of its citizens abroad. More …

Another SCF report released in August focused on how the Turkish government abused INTERPOL in a number of ways. The report shed light on such abusive practices by providing information on how INTERPOL mechanisms work and the way Turkey misused them in various cases. More …

Transnational repression expert Dr. Edward Lemon said in an interview with SCF that Turkey was one of the countries that abused mechanisms of international organizations such as INTERPOL the most. “Turkey is the worst of the worst when it comes to transnational repression, which is evident from a dataset compiled by Freedom House last year. In 2017 Turkey tried to put over 60,000 individuals on INTERPOL’s wanted lists,” he said. More …

Attacks and pressure on critics and journalists living abroad

Turkey froze assets of people and organizations on terror charges

Turkey froze the assets of 377 individuals and institutions in April, including US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen and people with links to the worldwide civic initiative inspired by him, under Law No. 6415 on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism. The decision, published in the Official Gazette in April, was made by then-Treasury and Finance Minister Lütfi Elvan and also signed by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. More …

In December the Turkish government froze the assets of 770 people including some journalists in exile and an organization on the grounds of terrorism financing in a ruling signed by Treasury and Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. More …

Pressure on journalists and their media outlets

Bold Medya, a YouTube channel run by the German-based International Journalists Association eV (IJA), was shut down due to efforts exerted by the Turkish government. The IJA was set up by exiled Turkish journalists who had to flee Turkey to avoid persecution and incarceration. More…

Erk Acarer, a Turkish journalist who is critical of the Turkish government and has been living in exile in Germany, said he was attacked outside his home in Berlin by three men who reportedly warned him to stop writing. More …

Seizure of schools by the Maarif Foundation

Ethiopia illegally transferred a school run by German investors to Turkey’s state-run Maarif Foundation. Turkish authorities claimed the school was affiliated with the Gülen movement. More …

New York mosque funded by Turkish gov’t refused to hold religious services

The Brooklyn Eyup Sultan Mosque, which is funded and operated by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), denied religious services for deceased Turkish-American businessman Muharrem Atmaca due to his links to the Gülen movement. More …

German police told former MP he was on hit list targeting gov’t critics in exile

The German Federal Police warned Hasip Kaplan, a former lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), of a planned assassination targeting him based on a hit list that included the names of 55 critics of the Turkish government living in exile. More …

Erdoğan’s long arm and the global witch-hunt

Turkish diplomatic missions spied on individuals affiliated with the Gülen movement

Court documents revealed that Turkish diplomatic missions around the world systematically spied on individuals allegedly linked to the Gülen movement.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil by Turkish diplomatic missions. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad. “If you look at the definition of a diplomat, it is clear. … Intelligence gathering is the duty of diplomats,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish journalists on February 16, 2020 following the Munich Security Conference, adding, “Intelligence gathering and information collection are a fact.”

According to court documents released in 2021, alleged supporters of the Gülen movement were spied on by the Turkish diplomatic missions in Hungary, Mozambique, Niger, Jordan, Gabon, Turkmenistan, Cameroon, Nepal, Angola, Albania, Argentina, Singapore, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Colombia, Malawi, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

Germany investigated Turk over alleged spying on Gülen supporters

German federal prosecutors said in October they were investigating a Turkish national on suspicion of spying on dissidents for MİT. More …

The suspect, identified as Ali D., was arrested in a Düsseldorf hotel on September 17 after an employee noticed a weapon on him, prosecutors said in a statement. A list of names of some Gülen movement followers was also seized in Ali D.’s hotel room, which included additional information on each person. More …

Turkey’s attempts to abuse INTERPOL

Speaking to journalists before the International Criminal Police Organization’s general assembly held in Turkey in November, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Turkey would use the INTERPOL General Assembly to persuade officials and delegates to take a stance against the Gülen movement. More …

Turkey will grow its presence at INTERPOL by increasing its number of liaison officers in the General Secretariat and nominating more candidates for senior positions within the organization, newly elected member of INTERPOL’s Executive Committee Selçuk Sevgel said in an interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency. More …

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