Turkey’s Transnational Repression: 2022 in Review

Turkey’s efforts at transnational repression against critics abroad did not wind down in 2022. On the contrary, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government devised new tools and methods with a view to intimidating opponents and suppressing dissent.

Since a coup attempt in July 2016, President 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.

In 2022 Erdoğan continued to relentlessly pursue anyone with alleged links with the faith-based Gülen movement. They have been targets of hate speech, hate crimes, unlawful prosecution, torture and abduction, among other serious human rights violations.

The Turkish government has employed extralegal methods to secure the return of its critics after its official extradition requests have been denied since 2016. The government’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) persuade the relevant states to hand over individuals without due process, using various methods. The victims have faced a number of human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, house raids, torture and ill-treatment during these operations.

According to a Freedom House report on global transnational repression, Ankara’s campaign primarily targets people affiliated with the Gülen movement, but the efforts of the government have recently expanded to include Kurds and leftists.

In November Vice President Fuat Oktay said in a speech in parliament that more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement have been forcibly returned to Turkey by MİT thanks to “intelligence diplomacy.” According to Oktay Turkish agents have conducted “diplomacy” with their counterparts in countries where Turkish nationals were abducted.

In several of these cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

Similarly, WGAD concluded in June that the arrest and detention of two individuals who were abducted from Malaysia on October 13, 2016 due to alleged ties to the movement were arbitrary and urged the Turkish and Malaysian governments to ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding their detention and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of their rights.

Abduction, Rendition and Forcible Return of Erdoğan Critics

Businessman who went missing in Azerbaijan rendered to Turkey by MİT

Uğur Demirok, 42, a Turkish businessman who went missing in Azerbaijan on September 6, was abducted and illegally brought to Turkey by MİT in November. Demirok, who had been working in the medical equipment business in Baku for the past seven years, left his home to go to work on the morning of September 6 and was never heard from again.

Demirok’s family was told by Azerbaijani officials that he was taken to Turkey as part of an operation carried out by Turkish spies. After they went to the missing persons bureau in Ankara, the family found that Demirok was being held at the counterterrorism branch (TEM) of the Ankara Police Department. More..

The businessman appeared before a court in İstanbul that ruled for his arrest on charges of terrorist organization membership due to his use of ByLock. More..

Teachers working at Gülen schools deported from Liberia

The Liberian government in April summarily deported Turkish and Azeri teachers and their families, 12 people in all, working at a school affiliated with the Gülen movement. The deportees were not sent to Turkey but are in Ghana, where there is also a Turkish school.

Local media commented that the abrupt deportation was as a result of overtures from the Erdoğan administration, aiming to suppress dissent around the world. More..

Former intel official said Turkish intel agency abducted critics from Africa, Central Asia by paying bribes

Associate Professor Ali Burak Darıcılı, an intelligence expert and former official at MİT, said the organization had forcibly returned to Turkey individuals linked to the Gülen movement from some African and Central Asian countries by bribing local officials. More..

ECtHR faulted Azerbaijan for violating rights of 4 Turkish teachers illegally deported to Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in March that Azerbaijan violated the rights of four Turkish teachers who had worked at private schools in the country linked to the Gülen movement, saying their detention and deportation to Turkey amounted to “extrajudicial rendition.” More..

Prosecutor recommended up to 15 years in prison for teacher abducted from Kenya

A Turkish prosecutor recommended that Selahaddin Gülen, a teacher who was forcibly returned from Kenya to Turkey in 2021 due to his affiliation with the Gülen movement, be sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of terrorist organization membership. More..

Kosovar officials involved in illegal deportation of Turkish teachers face 5 years in prison

Three Kosovar officials involved in the illegal deportation of six Turkish teachers to Turkey in March 2018 face five-year prison sentences in a trial that got underway in February. A court in Pristina started proceedings against the three officials, who faced accusations of “abuse of official position or authority” and “illegal deprivation of liberty.” More..

Albanian PM turned down Erdoğan’s request for measures against Gülen followers

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama rejected a request made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for measures against followers of the Gülen movement. Erdoğan made the request to Rama during an official visit to Tirana in January. More..

Dr. Dana Moss called on the UN to appoint a special rapporteur on transnational repression

Dr. Dana Moss

Dr. Dana Moss, who developed the term “transnational repression,” in an interview with SCF called on the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur to study the practice.

 “I would like to see the United Nations, the EU human rights arms, bringing more attention to this issue. Perhaps the UN could appoint a special rapporteur to study the issue,” she said. More..

Attacks and pressure on critics and journalists living abroad

Critical Turkish journalist living in exile in Sweden brutally attacked

Ahmet Dönmez, a Turkish journalist critical of President Erdoğan’s ruling party who has been living in exile in Sweden, was attacked by two men in March in Stockholm. Dönmez, known for his reports on mafia groups associated with Turkish government officials including President Erdoğan, lost consciousness after the attack, which took place in front of his 6-year-old daughter. More..

In an interview with the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper in November Dönmez said he no longer feels safe in Sweden. More..

Erdoğan labeled journalist in exile a ‘terrorist,’ demanded his extradition from Swedish PM

Exiled journalist Bülent Keneş

President Erdoğan demanded the extradition of Bülent Keneş, a Turkish journalist in exile in Sweden whom he called a “terrorist,” during a meeting with the country’s prime minister in Ankara in November. “Issues such as the number of terrorists who will be extradited to Turkey, 30 or 100, are things open to discussion. The deportation of the terrorist named Bülent Keneş is of importance to us,” Erdoğan said at a news conference with Kristersson. More..

Turkey’s state-run TRT Haber news station targeted Keneş by broadcasting footage of his home in Stockholm. TRT’s Enes Boyraz reported from the vicinity of his home for a news story about Turkey’s demand for Keneş’s extradition. More..

Sweden’s Supreme Court in December blocked the extradition of Keneş, a key demand by Ankara to ratify Stockholm’s NATO membership. “There is also a risk of persecution based on this person’s political beliefs. An extradition can thus not take place,” Judge Petter Asp said in a statement. More..

Turkey added exiled journalist Dündar to ‘Terrorist Wanted List’

A screenshot from the list

Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist living in exile, was added to the Turkish Interior Ministry’s “Terrorist Wanted List.” Dündar was listed in the “gray category,” under which a reward of up to TL 500,000 ($26,710) is offered for information that leads to the apprehension of the suspect being sought. More..

Turkish TV station investigated for hosting former football star sought on Gülen links

Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog initiated an investigation into a TV station for hosting former national football player Hakan Şükür, who is sought by Turkey due to his links to the Gülen movement. More..

Deutsche Bank closed accounts of Erdoğan opponents without giving any reason

Germany’s Deutsche Bank closed the accounts of three opponents of President Erdoğan without providing a reason, possibly over dubious risk intelligence that relies on information coming from Ankara, which labeled the dissidents as terrorists. More..

Turkey’s Transnational Repression: Abuse of asset freezing mechanisms under the pretext of prevention of terrorist financing

SCF in May released a report titled “Turkey’s Transnational Repression: Abuse of asset freezing mechanisms under the pretext of prevention of terrorist financing,” a study that focuses on how the Turkish government’s decisions to freeze assets based on the pretext of preventing the financing of terrorism have been weaponized to suppress critics abroad as a further means of Turkey’s transnational repression.

According to the report, people whose names appeared on the published lists faced various repercussions including the freezing or closure of their accounts, negative credit scores and various other personal and financial difficulties in Western countries. More..

Turkey sought extradition of journalist in exile reporting on gov’t corruption

Turkey’s Justice Ministry sought the extradition of Cevheri Güven, an investigative journalist living in exile in Germany from where he reports extensively on the Turkish government’s corruption and shady relations with mafia and crime groups. More..

Exiled journalist indicted for insulting President Erdoğan in report on convicted jihadist

Swedish-based Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt was indicted in Turkey over an article he wrote about a convicted jihadist, with the public prosecutor claiming that the article insulted President Erdoğan. More..

Pro-Erdoğan daily targeted Turkish journalists and critics living in exile

Turkish journalists and critics living in exile were targeted by a pro-government newspaper that revealed their home addresses and published secretly taken photos.

The Sabah daily, owned by the Turkuvaz Media Group, published secretly taken photos of exiled journalists Cevheri Güven, Abdullah Bozkurt, Bülent Keneş and Levent Kenez and former police chief Murat Çetiner.

Unidentified assailants damaged a car belonging to Çetiner after he was recently targeted by the daily. More…

Abdurrahman Şimşek, news coordinator for the Sabah daily, who had been “mapping” political dissidents from Turkey in Europe, gave a Danish journalists association a false identity and address. Şimşek, who is suspected of having links to Turkey’s intelligence agency, tracked political dissidents in Europe and targeted people whose extradition is demanded by the Turkish government.

Erdoğan’s long arm and the global witch-hunt

Germany accused alleged MİT agent of spying for Turkey, violating weapons law

A suspected Turkish agent was charged with spying on dissidents for Turkey’s MİT and violating the weapons law in an indictment brought before the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf.

German federal prosecutors said in the indictment sent to the court in March that the suspect, identified as Ali D., who was arrested in a Düsseldorf hotel in 2021, after an employee noticed a weapon on him, had been collecting information on supporters of the Gülen movement and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in order to pass it on to Turkish intelligence since August 2018. More..

3 Austrian-Turks detained on suspicion of espionage

The Austrian interior ministry confirmed that three Austrian Turks were detained in June on suspicion of spying on dissidents for Turkey’s intelligence agency and were released pending trial after questioning. Austrian police in June raided two houses and detained three people who reportedly gave information about 800 members of the Gülen movement to Turkish intelligence service MİT.

The Austrian interior ministry viewed the case as a typical one of “foreign powers spying on opposition members and government opponents living abroad.” More..

Taxi driver got suspended sentence for spying on Turkish dissidents in Germany

A German court handed down a nine-month suspended sentence to a taxi driver who was accused of spying on Turkish dissidents in Germany for Turkey’s intelligence service.

A German citizen of Turkish descent who was identified as Aziz A. and was working as a taxi driver in Cologne was accused of collaborating with a Turkish man recently convicted of spying on dissidents for MİT in addition to facing weapons charges. More..

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