A group of students, teachers and executives from Pak-Turk schools in Islamabad on Thursday called on Pakistan government to provide information about a Turkish family abducted in Lahore on Wednesday, amid fears they were targeted for allegedly having ties to the Gülen movement.
Releasing a press statement on Thursday, they stated that despite more than 32 hours passed since the abduction of Turkish educator Mesut Kaçmaz and his family members, who have been under the UNHCR protection as asylum seekers in Pakistan since November 2016, none of the Pakistani officials made any satisfactory explanation to them over the incident.
In a press conference at National Press Club in İslamabad on Thursday, a colleague of Mesut Kaçmaz , who was abducted along with his family from his Lahore home early on Wednesday morning, urged Pakistan government to provide information on the incident asking whether they were detained by a Pakistan state security agency.
Several students gathered in front of a courthouse in İslamabad and chanted slogans on support of Kaçmaz family. Students carried placards saying “We want Kaçmaz family back”, “Turkish lives matter” and several others in Turkish and Urdu.
Kaçmaz was a principal at a private school in Lahore and former vice-president of Pak-Turk Schools that was linked to the Gülen movement, which Turkey blames for a failed coup last year.
Speaking to media in front of the courthouse before petitioning to a court on behalf of the missing family, Pak-Turk schools lawyer Asma Gilani said “We are pressing them (Pakistan officials) to make every effort to recover the missing family as early as possible.”
“This situation has sparked panic and uncertainty among other Turkish families living in Pakistan especially in Lahore,” she added.
Kaçmaz and his family were allowed to stay one year in Lahore upon receiving an asylum certificate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Fatih Avcı, who was released after being abducted on Wednesday along with Kaçmaz, his wife and two daughters, by unidentified people, said he is concerned about their safety as there is no clear information as to who abducted them.
In a video message on Thursday, Avcı said there has been no news from the Kaçmaz family despite the fact that they informed Pakistani police about the incident.
“They were abducted by unidentified people, we don’t know whether they were state officials, police, intelligence officers or mafia. We are really concerned for their lives.” he said.
Avcı said he woke up to a huge noise coming from his ground floor neighbor’s flat in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“When I went downstairs, I saw 10 to 15 unidentified people in civilian clothes, five to six of them women, trying to take my neighbor Mesut Kaçmaz and his family, with two daughters, outside their flat by force. I intervened in order to stop them. And subsequently we were taken out of the building. There were unidentified armed people in plain clothes waiting near a vehicle outside. We were put in the vehicle by force, blindfolded, a sack put over our heads and handcuffed,” he explained in the video.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had also called for the immediate release of Mesut Kaçmaz’s and his family on Wednesday. HRCP said the family was roughed-up, hooded, handcuffed and taken in a wagon.
“They were taken to a well furnished house where several other interrogators were also present. A Turkish neighbour who protested was also picked-up but later released. He witnessed the entire episode including the abduction and brutality meted out to the Kaçmaz family,” HRCP stated.
HRCP urged the government to immediately release the Kaçmaz family and desist from deporting them; as there are credible reports of other Turkish educationists being arrested upon their arrival in Turkey and their subsequent torture.
Ankara had asked Pakistan in August to close down institutions run by Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish Islamic scholar accused of masterminding the botched coup attempt last July. Gülen, whose views inspired the Gülen movement, which runs a network of schools, charity organizations and foundations around the world, strongly denies any involvement in the coup attempt.
In Pakistan, the Gülen movement runs a network of schools and the Rumi Forum, an intellectual and intercultural dialogue platform, in addition to having business interests. Gülen-linked organizations and businesses have been operating in Pakistan for decades.
Since the eruption of a corruption investigation in late 2013 in which senior members of the Turkish government were involved, Erdoğan has been waging an all-out war against the movement. All Gülen-linked schools, organizations and foundations were closed down in Turkey after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Erdoğan is also exerting pressure on other countries to close down Gülen schools operating within their borders.
The statement of teacher friends of Kaçmaz is as follow:
“As Turkish educationists, who have been under the UNHCR protection as asylum seekers in Pakistan since November 2016, are immensely concerned about the latest developments which unfolded as the abduction of a Turkish educationist with his family in the early hours of September 27, 2017 in Lahore, by blindfolding them and sliding their heads into hoods (wife and children included).
As teachers and administrators who worked at PakTurk educational institutions, we have selflessly educated the children and youth of Pakistan, and served to the people of Pakistan throughout 22 years so far. Throughout these years, we have not been involved in any illegal or detrimental activity and we did not bring shame to neither Pakistan nor to Turkey.
As a result of the political issues in Turkey and unjustified pressure from there, our visa applications were rejected by an official letter issued by the Government of Pakistan on 14 November 2016 and all of Turkish educationists had to apply as asylum seekers to the UNHCR on 27 November 2016. We have been staying in Pakistan with the asylum seeker certificates issued by the UNHCR. The reason why the educationists resorted to this option was that Turkish government introduced legal cases against them and the educationists did not have any valid Pakistani residence permit and visa to apply to a teaching post in another country. With effect from the end of November 2016, Turkish educationists had to severe their ties with PakTurk educational institutions and they are not allowed into PakTurk educational institutions.
In the ensuing past ten months under UNHCR protection, none of the Turkish educationists have undergone any legal investigation. We only wish from the Government of Pakistan to stay in Pakistan with peace throughout the validity of our asylum seeker certificates.
Just as it appeared on print, visual and social media, one of our colleagues – Mr. Mesut Kaçmaz and his family – were illegally lifted from their home by early morning at around 2:00 a.m. on 27 November 2017. 15 officers in the guise of police applied force while taking the family from their house. During this procedure, he was severely manhandled, his wife fainted and even then, the constables pulled her on her feet to arrest her, their two teenage daughters had a crying fit. Seeing this, their upstairs neighbor, who is also a Turkish educationist under UNHCR protection protested and he was arrested as well. Before making them get on the squad vehicle, the squad blindfolded all of the family members and the witness and also draped hoods on their heads. It was shocking beyond words to subject women and teenagers to blindfolding and draping their heads in hoods during arrest.
After a while, the squad released the witness, Mr. Fatih Avcı, again first blindfolding him, later releasing him near the gate of his housing society in Lahore.
Now, almost 32 hours passed since this incident, but none of the officials made any satisfactory explanation to us. We, by no means, are able to understand how court decisions can be disrespected and trampled upon so blatantly like this by kidnapping people from their homes. We have been psychologically tortured and harassed by the law enforcement agencies in other cities, especially in Lahore and Islamabad.
We are seriously concerned about the safety of our lives and wellbeing. We immediately request the state authorities to provide more details about the perpetrators of this illegal incident and provide the return of our colleagues among us with immediate effect.”