Turkish family faced abuse, violence and lies during forcible removal from Pakistan

Kaçmaz Family

A Turkish family of four that were unlawfully abducted in Pakistan and later turned over to Turkish security services in defiance of the UN protection and local court’s judgement were subjected to abuse and torture on board of Turkish plane that whisked them away from Pakistani airport.

The investigators from Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy group that tracks rights violations, uncovered chilling accounts of ill-treatment faced by Mesut Kaçmaz, his wife Meral Kaçmaz and their daughters Hüda Nur (17) and Fatma Huma (15) after being kept 17 days in captivity. The sources SCF talked to reveal horrible treatment of family as soon as the plane specially sent by Turkey to pick them up took off the airport. Father Kaçmaz was beaten on the plane by Turkish police and intelligence officers. The torture continued when Kaçmaz and his wife were detained and later arrested in Turkey.

The family were living in Pakistan under an asylum seeker certificate issued by UNHCR, which was valid till November 24, 2017. The Lahore High Court had also ordered the government not to deport them and put their names on the Exit Control List (ECL). Nevertheless, they were forcibly turned over to operatives who were sent from Turkey, as part of what is believed to be a secret deal between Turkish and Pakistani governments.

The family’s terrible ordeal started on September 27, 2017 around 1:30 am when a fleet of five all-wheel drive Land-Cruiser and Toyota Fortuner vehicles pulled over by their house located at 461, E2 Block, Wapda Town, in Lahore. More than 20 plain clothed police officers from Pakistan Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) exited from the vehicles and stormed the family’s house. The family was terrified as daughters were asking their mother whether the man came to take their father away. Pakistani police did not show any warrant for detention nor identified themselves. They simply told the family “We are here to pick you up and nothing more could be said.”

Mesut Kaçmaz’s repeated questions remained unanswered. He refused to comply without a warrant and explanation. The men tried to drag him out of the house as his wife Meral Kaçmaz passed out due to drop in her blood pressure. The girls run to their rooms and wanted to put their clothes on by changing their pyjamas. Police did not allow girls to change their clothes and tried to take them away from their rooms amid cries and shouts. As police dragged the girls away to the cars in their night outfits without shoes, Huma was injured from her leg. In the meantime, their father Mesut was getting a terrible beating by the police.

Their neighbours were awakened to noise and a Turkish man named Fatih Avcı from upstairs came down and tried to intervene. Avcı, a Turkish language teacher by profession and currently an asylum seeker placed under the protection of the UNHCR, later told what he witnessed as following: The `police officers’ were pushing and shoving to arrest them. I saw Mrs. Meral, Mr. Mesut’s wife, lying on the floor and two lady constables were pulling to get her on her feet. The couple’s two teenage daughters were weeping loudly and some other `police officers’ were trying to push Mr. Mesut, who was protesting the raid, towards the door. When I saw the sheer display of disproportionate power applied on Mrs. Meral, I protested and the `officers’ arrested me and took me downstairs.”

Police handcuffed and blindfolded all of them before putting each one of them in separate cars. The sources SCF talked to believe the family was taken a secret house located in a military base near the Fortress Stadium, a popular venue for sports, shopping, dining and entertainment in Lahore Cantt. The family was never informed where they were kept for 17 days of captivity in this house. Avcı, the friend and neighbour of Kaçmaz family, was taken back to a place near his home after police told him they have no business with him.

The family told by CTD officers identified with only first names as Javed and Zakir that their abduction from the home was all staged for their safety. “We would let you go in 24 hours. We’ll explain everything. We have done all this for your security,”’ the men told the family.

Yet, after 24 hours, the family was not released. This time the police told a different story, claiming that “We have a knowledge that a team from Turkey has been in Pakistan and they have been conduction surveillance about you for some time. Their goal is to assassinate you. We took you away to protect you from this.”

CTD officers also justified forcible removal of the family by stating that “The phones were tapped by Turkish operatives and they could not explain why were taken away when they came to their house.” The force was used to make it appear it was real, one officer remarked.

The windows in the house were all tinted to block the vision and the light. They were barred from going out into the garden. For seventeen days, they were unable to see the sunlight. They were still in their night outfits and could not change because the police did not allow them to so in their home or take extra clothes with them. The guards posted to watch over them went to the shopping mall nearby to get some clothes.

On last night, police told the family that they will be taken to Islamabad to meet officials from Turkish Embassy and Foreign Ministry and everything will be sorted out there. Later they were promised to be taken to their homes in Lahore and resume their normal life. The family was not convinced. Javed and Zakir tried to persuade family by saying that there is no reason to be concerned at all.

The next day, on October 14, they were taken to the airport where an unmarked plane dispatched by Turkish intelligence was waiting for them. The family realized the set-up when they lifted the window curtains of the vehicle they were driven to take a look at the plane. They knew (Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan’s thugs came to pick them up and to put them in jail. They started crying and screaming but forced to board the plane although they had no passports or travel documents.

Turkish team in mid-size private plane is composed of seven or eight team with two being women. They were blindfolded, tightly handcuffed and strapped to their seats. The abuse already started before the plane even took off from the tarmac. They kept insulting, shouting the family. They were accompanied during the bathroom break. Mesut Kaçmaz was beaten down in front of the family while plane is on the air bound for İstanbul.

When the plane landed in İstanbul, family members were put on separate cars and taken to police station at the airport. Meral Kaçmaz and her daughter Fatma Huma were still blindfolded while Hüda Nur was not. They were barred from speaking to each other. Police took away Mesut Kaçmaz and this was the last time Hüda Nur took a look at his father while others could not because of the blindfolds. The mother and the girls were later taken to a police station in Bakırköy district outside of the airport. They spent the night in detention facility there. The next day a family friend of Meral Kaçmaz’s father came and picked up the girls to take them to their grandparents. Meral Kaçmaz was left alone in the detention. She was later transferred to Ankara, Turkish capital, where she was formally placed in detention in anti-terror department.

Mesut Kaçmaz was kept in İstanbul where he was interrogated. After suffering terrible trauma for 20 days and losing his connection with his wife and the daughters, he was broken. He testified to whatever the police asked him to testify. After his statement on October 16, 2017, he was formally arrested and placed in Metris Prison. He was later transferred to notorious Silivri Prison where most political prisoners were kept along with felons and convicts.

Unlike her husband, Meral Kaçmaz’s saga in detention was far from over. She had been questioned for days by the police before formal charges filed. The seven-day detention period was extended for another week for she was constantly subjected to abuse, threats and insults. On October 25, she was formally arrested during the arraignment hearing.

In the meantime, legal challenges about the family’s forcible and unlawful removal continues in Pakistan with family lawyer and rights organizations pursuing the case as Pakistani government officials deny deportation. Sources in the Pakistani Interior Ministry and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) told Pakistani daily The Express Tribune that there is no record of any such deportation at Integrated Border Management System (IBMS), a system installed at the airports to check computerised arrival and departure of any traveler.

Asma Jilani Jahangir

Asma Jilani Jahangir, renowned Pakistani human rights lawyer and social activist who co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the lawyer of the members of the Kaçmaz family, was furious at the extradition. “I mean: Is this a country or a forest? Is it an unowned realm? Because no one is regardful of the court here, they deliver the people they want to world dictators, as they have done before…” said Jahangir and added that “This is just because there is a friendship between the leaders there and here… So we will just continue to deliver people here like a sacrificial sheep, is that so? This court today ordered the authorities and asked for the number and list of all aircraft landing in Islamabad and departing from Islamabad. The judge also ordered the CCTV footage from the airport, along with records of which private plane landed at the airport, and said he wanted to see how the family was taken.”

Jahangir, who is widely known for playing a prominent role in the Lawyers’ Movement and serves as the trustee at the International Crisis Group (ICG), has stated over the scandal that “If the foreign and interior ministries of Pakistan do not know anything about the deportation, then who is that third person who sits here and orders everything? If there is a third party, then he must be sitting there listening to us. We also know who he is and we will not let him go.”

Asking that “Who is the manager who broke those court orders and suppressed his orders?” Jahangir has stated that “Moreover, according to the court order, we also gave a list of all the Turks living here in the province of Punjab; no one will be able to take any Turkish citizen, including spouses and children, out of the country without a court order. They will be given police protection and no one will be able to kidnap them because they are in police protection…”

General Attorney of Pakistan has claimed that “We have no information about the abduction,” during an hearing in the case of the Kaçmaz family before the Lahore High Court. The attorney has also presented official letters from Pakistan’s interior and foreign ministries which have been containing similar views.

However, the arguments of the Pakistani government have been falsified by pro-Erdoğan media in Turkey. The reports published in the front pages of pro-government Turkish media have exposed the role of Pakistani government in the scandal of Kaçmaz family’s abduction in Lahore and their illegal deportation to Turkey.

Takvim daily, which is owned and administered by Erdoğan family, has reported that Kaçmaz family was abducted by Counter Terrorism Department of Pakistan at the request of Turkish government. Pro-government Hürriyet daily has also reported that Turkish government sent an unregistered private plane to Islamabad to take Kaçmaz family to Turkey. These reports have showed Pakistani authorities obvious role and disproved the arguments asserted by Pakistani government over their irresponsibility in abduction of Kaçmaz family and and the scandal of their illegal deportation to Turkey.

Takvim daily has reported on the abduction and deportation process of Kaçmaz family in a story under the headline of “Even UN could not rescue the FETÖist traitor.” “FETÖ” is a derogatory buzzword, coined by political Islamist Erdoğan who calls the civic and pacifist Gülen movement as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.”

Mesut Kaçmaz, who graduated from the Department of Urdu Language and Literature in Konya’s Selçuk University in Turkey, has been involved educational and cultural activities in Pakistan since 2007. Mesut Kaçmaz, married to Meral Kaçmaz who is a teacher like himself.

Mesut Kaçmaz worked as the principal of the Pak-Turk Clifton Boys School. The school has so far passed out hundreds of graduates and represented the country successfully by receiving medals at international science olympiads. Mesut Kaçmaz was also among those people journalist Sabrina Tavernise had interviews for an article published by the New York Times on the Gülen movement affiliated Turkish schools’ positive effect on Pakistan on May 4, 2008.

The witch hunt launched in 2013 in Turkey targeting the alleged followers of the Gülen movement in the wake of a massive corruption and bribery scandal of Turkish government ministers and their family members on December 17-25, 2013 has even affected Pakistan. Turkish autocratic President Erdoğan put the pressure on the Pakistani government to close the educational and cultural institutions alleged to be affiliated with the movement and to deport the Turkish citizens working in these institutions.

In November 2016, the Pakistani government did not extend the visas of these teachers and their families and ordered them to leave the country within three days. Teachers moved courts and objected the decision. During this period, they also applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) and were issued asylum seeker certificates placing them under the UN protection.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 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.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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