The Turkish government’s response to a joint UN letter on systematic, state-sponsored abductions and the forcible return of Turkish nationals was conveyed by the country’s permanent mission to the UN office in Geneva, via a note verbale dated June 11, 2020.
In the response, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s diplomats, who coordinated state-sponsored abductions and systematically spied on government critics, accused the Hizmet/Gülen movement of manipulating the UN with false allegations instead of providing further information about illegal operations.
UN rapporteurs Luciano Hazan, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment sent a joint letter to the Turkish government to express their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple States to Turkey.”
Similarly, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found at its 87th session held between April 27 and May 1, 2020 that the deprivation of liberty due to the Hizmet/Gülen movement links of three individuals was arbitrary, lacked a legal basis and violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It further held that those with alleged links to the movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, constituting a prohibited discriminatory ground, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported.
Joint UN letter on systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple states to Turkey:
In their letter the UN rapporteurs underlined that the Turkish government allegedly signed bilateral security cooperation agreements with multiple states for the expulsion or abduction of Turkish nationals and asked Turkey how those agreements are compatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.
The rapporteurs also requested information on the role of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and other institutions in those kidnapping operations. “The Government of Turkey, in coordination with other States, is reported to have forcibly transferred over 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey, of which 40 individuals have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly abducted off the streets or from their homes all over the world, and in multiple instances along with their children,” the letter said.
However, the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s information note attached to the diplomatic communiqué did not touch on those allegations, while it requested UN bodies to not allow the Gülen movement to “abuse these mechanisms and to dismiss their allegations.”
Note verbale and information note conveyed by the permanent Turkish representative to the UN office in Geneva:
Cases indicated in the letter revealed the fraudulent use of diplomatic facilities by Erdoğan’s envoys and their expertise in plotting the deportation of people who are affiliated with “Hizmet/Gulen movement,” a group critical of the Turkish government that appears to be the latest victim of the government of President Erdoğan. Some of the Turkish ambassadors coordinated the local elements of intelligence operations carried out by MİT on foreign soil to abduct Turkish nationals.
For instance, Turkey’s Pristina embassy, according to local sources in Kosovo, was key to the logistics and planning of the abduction and served as a detention center for the abduction operation in Kosovo. The Turkish nationals — Cihan Özkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Mustafa Erdem, Yusuf Karabina and Osman Karakaya — were kept for a time at the embassy chancery or at the residence of then-Turkish Ambassador Kıvılcım Kılıç on March 29, 2018. It was alleged that MİT was instructed to kidnap five Turks but that Özkan was added to the list in Pristina by Ambassador Kılıç. The Cumhuriyet daily reported that pictures were taken on the Turkish Embassy premises in Pristina by the state-run Anadolu news agency after their arrest.
Former Turkish Ambassador in Pristina Kılıç was rewarded for her services in Kosovo by President Erdoğan, who appointed her director-general for the Council of Europe and Human Rights at the foreign ministry.
The joint UN letter revealed how the Turkish Embassy in Phnom Penh attempted to deceive Cambodian authorities in order to request the extradition of Mexican citizen Osman Karaca, who is of Turkish origin. According to the UN document, the Turkish diplomatic mission reported to the Cambodian police that Karaca was holding a fraudulent Mexican passport, after which the authorities arrested Karaca. “The Turkish Embassy then demanded his deportation to Turkey due to ‘the lack of an international travel document.’ It is also alleged that the Turkish authorities have bribed local officials to secure their cooperation in illegal actions to arbitrarily arrest him,” the letter underlined.
To secure his release from detention and ward off an attempt at an illegal extradition, the Mexican Embassy in Hanoi, accredited to Cambodia, had conveyed a note verbale to prove Karaca’s Mexican citizenship and attached a copy of his passport in its communication to Cambodian authorities.
However, Karaca was detained based on the embassy’s fabricated argument. The Turkish Embassy then pursued a smear tactic against Karaca and demanded his deportation due to the lack of an international travel document. Since Aydan Ünlü, the Turkish ambassador in Phnom Penh, was well aware of Karaca’s status and the political nature of the demand, she didn’t hesitate to violate both international conventions and the regulations of the receiving state by submitting falsified arguments to Cambodian police in order to win the praise of President Erdoğan.
Furthermore, the Turkish Foreign Ministry did not respond to the UN rapporteurs on the forcible return of Turkish nationals and teachers living in Gabon. In April 2018 Osman Özpınar, Ibrahim Akbaş and Adnan Demirönal, their three spouses and seven children were arrested and held in incommunicado detention for 23 days before they were forcibly returned to Turkey. According to local sources, then-Ambassador Fevzi Suphan Erkula delivered several démarches in Libreville for the deportation of the Turkish educators and their families.
The UN letter stressed that Mustafa Ceyhan was “abducted in front of the courthouse in Azerbaijan by a group of eight men in plainclothes, ostensibly from the Azerbaijani and Turkish intelligence services” in April 2018, despite the court’s decision not to order extradition. “Following his abduction, Mr. Ceyhan was reportedly tortured by electric shocks three times until he lost consciousness. He was also shown video footage of his family members and was threatened that they would be kidnapped unless he agreed to be transferred to Turkey,” the rapporteurs said.
The UN document also exposed how Mesut Kacmaz, the former director of PakTurk, and his family members were “abducted by Pakistani state intelligence, held in secret or incommunicado detention for 17 days, and then involuntarily returned to Turkey on 14 October 2017.” According to the UN document, the Kaçmaz family was reportedly subjected to physical and verbal abuse aimed at coercing them to voluntarily return to Turkey while being detained incommunicado, and was transferred to Turkey despite a judicial order against deportation issued on September 28, 2017.
Then-Turkish Ambassador to Pakistan Sadik Babur Girgin had revealed the reason behind the intelligence operation, saying “the Pak-Turk schools were linked with the Hizmet/ Gülen movement.”
In addition to the coordinating role in the abduction operations, Turkish embassies and consulates have become tools of spying in the hands of Turkey’s Islamist rulers. Turkish diplomatic and consular missions around the world have systematically spied on critics of President Erdoğan, profiling their organizations and listing their names as if they were part of a terrorist organization.
In February Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed clandestine spying operations by Turkish diplomats on foreign soil. 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.”
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Turkish Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras also confessed to spying on 15 Turkish-Canadians. “Any embassy would focus on the threats targeting their countries. That’s what every embassy does,” he told The Globe and Mail.
The official correspondence that was conveyed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office included two CDs containing details of the structure of the movement in each country and a full list of people believed to be affiliated with the movement. Those lists were also distributed to the Ministry of Justice, MIT and the relevant departments of the Security Directorate General for them to take further administrative or legal action against people who were profiled, punish their relatives back in Turkey and seize their assets.
The foreign ministry document was signed by former Deputy Undersecretary Kaan Esener, who is currently the ambassador representing Turkey at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Ironically, the person who was in charge of the office that communicated this document and kept lists of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is now representing his country at the largest intergovernmental body in Europe, which champions democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights.
Pressure on journalists and the crackdown on Erdoğan critics throughout the country intensified in the aftermath of the corruption scandal of December 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates. Immediately after the corruption investigation, Erdoğan accused the police officers, judges and prosecutors involved in the case of mounting a coup against his government and claimed they were linked to the Gülen movement, which he branded a “parallel state.”
The crackdown on critics and the purge of government officials that were initiated in the aftermath of the December 2013 corruption probes accelerated after a failed coup in July 2016, giving Erdoğan a pretext to pursue a mass purge with no administrative or judicial probes. The government has rounded up over half a million people from the Gülen movement since 2016, mainly on coup, terrorism or defamation charges. The witch-hunt aims to suppress civil society, silence critical voices and stifle the right to dissent, while Erdoğan continues to transform Turkish democracy into a dictatorship.
In May 2016 Erdogan’s Turkey designated the movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, as a terrorist entity without any evidence that Gülen or people affiliated with the movement committed any terrorist acts. Then, a coup was attempted in July 2016, reportedly at Erdoğan’s direction, as a pretext for an ensuing crackdown. Following the failed coup, which was called “a gift from God” by Erdoğan, thousands of Turkish citizens were forced to flee their homes due to his anti-democratic rule and a still-ongoing purge of government critics.
Erdoğan then moved Turkey away from the core values of the EU by using the coup to restrict democratic rights and erode the rule of law. In the aftermath of the abortive putsch , the Turkish government violated international law by arresting tens of thousands, including journalists, human rights defenders, academics, Kurdish MPs, foreign reporters, civil servants and businessmen; purging at least 152,000 civil servants from their jobs without any effective judicial or administrative investigation; investigating more than a half million people on dubious terrorism allegations; and shutting down media outlets and seizing their assets. Torture allegations have often been voiced by human rights defenders since the failed coup.
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