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MİT abducted Turkish businessman sought over Gülen links from Tajikistan

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Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization on Sunday illegally renditioned a Turkish businessman who had been living in Tajikistan for 28 years and was being sought by Turkey over his links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, according to a special report by the Kronos news website.

Businessman Koray Vural was kidnapped by unknown persons in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Saturday morning, according to a special report by Sevinç Özarslan of the Kronos news website.

According to the report citing eyewitness accounts, Vural, 46, who has permanent residency in Tajikistan, was abducted around 9:30 a.m. local time as he got out of his car in front of his restaurant, Özyurt Restaurant, in Dushanbe. He was apprehended by eight individuals and was brought to Turkey on Sunday morning.

A family member who spoke to Kronos said, “He is a well-known person in Tajikistan. Eight people took him as he got out of his car. Initially, we learned he was held at the Tajikistan security service, but his spouse could not find him despite asking everywhere.”

Graduating with a degree in English language teaching from Tajik State University, Vural also completed his doctorate in the country. Initially working as a teacher in Tajikistan, he later ventured into business and established the Özyurt Restaurant.

This marks the second abduction in the past three months in Tajikistan. On July 4 teacher Emsal Koç, who had been living in Tajikistan for 29 years, was abducted in front of his home and brought to Turkey.

Vural, a father of three, faced legal action in 2017 as part of investigations targeting the Gülen movement at the Bursa 10th High Criminal Court.

Following a coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens, particularly members of the faith-based Gülen movement, under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup, despite the fact that the movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Although the Turkish government has classified the movement as a terrorist organization, none of its Western allies have fallen for Ankara’s portrayal and consider the group a civic initiative focused on educational activities. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, lives in exile in the United States, which has refused to extradite him to Turkey on the grounds that there is no substantial evidence that he committed a crime.

Born in 1977, Vural came to Dushanbe for a university education in 1994. Following his graduation, he served in various educational institutions as a teacher and administrator. He became a businessman in 2016, representing different companies. Vural, whose passport expired in 2020 and was not renewed by Turkish authorities, was residing in the country with a permanent residence permit.

Vural had previously applied to the United Nations for resettlement to a safe country and was expecting the process to conclude shortly.

Since the coup attempt in Turkey, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has employed extralegal methods to secure the return of its critics after its official extradition requests are denied.

Most recently, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in its first resolution condemning all forms of transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights, revealed the tactics of countries, including Turkey, to suppress their critics abroad.

In a joint letter UN rapporteurs accused the Turkish government of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns to Turkey, with at least 100 Turkish nationals renditioned from multiple states to Turkey.

Turkey’s MİT confirmed in its annual report that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement.

“… [M]ore than 100 members of the [Gülen movement] from different countries were brought to Turkey as a result of the [agency’s] increased operational capacity abroad,” MİT’s 2022 report said.

Successor of Turkish spy chief-turned-FM carries on with abductions

MİT’s previous undersecretary, Hakan Fidan, assumed the position of foreign minister after President Erdoğan secured another five years to rule the country in the May elections. Fidan had been Turkey’s intelligence chief since 2010.

The former spy chief was alleged to be behind the abduction of scores of Turkish dissidents abroad through various methods, with kidnappings and forced renditions being mostly of individuals suspected of links to the Gülen movement.

Local mafia groups and intelligence organizations were reportedly employed in the abductions that occurred mainly in African, Balkan and Southeast Asian countries.

After Fidan, Erdoğan appointed his spokesperson, İbrahim Kalın, as the head of MİT.

Kalın is a long-time confidant of President Erdoğan, has served as the spokesperson for the presidency and has been a foreign policy adviser for the president since 2014.

He holds a Ph.D. from George Washington University in Islamic studies and was one of the founders of SETA, a pro-government think tank based in Ankara.

Kalın has taken the lead on several diplomatic efforts in recent years, shaping Turkey’s foreign policy agenda.

Erdoğan’s crackdown on the Gülen movement

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding, a charge that Gülen strongly denies.

Former Vice President Fuat Oktay said in a speech in parliament that Turkish agents had conducted “diplomacy” with their counterparts in countries where Turkish nationals were abducted.

A report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, released in October 2021 and titled “Turkey’s Transnational Repression: Abduction, Rendition and Forcible Return of Erdoğan Critics,” focused on how the Turkish government under President Erdoğan has used extrajudicial and illegal methods for the forcible transfer to Turkey of its citizens abroad.

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