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Turkish authorities continue to engage in transnational repression, says HRW report

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Turkish authorities have continued the practice of organizing the abduction and rendition to Turkey of individuals with alleged links to the Gülen movement, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom.

According to “We Will Find You: A Global Look at How Governments Repress Nationals Abroad,” which was published on Thursday, the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) collaborated with authorities in countries with weak rule of law frameworks for the forced return of dissidents.

The report added that government officials have openly stated they were pursuing affiliates of the movement across the globe. In 2018, then-deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdağ said Turkey’s intelligence service had abducted 80 Turkish nationals from 18 countries.

MİT confirmed in its annual report for 2022 that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, 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 an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

HRW pointed to several incidents where dissidents were forcibly returned to Turkey. Selahaddin Gülen, nephew of Fethullah Gülen, went missing in May 2021 while traveling to Kenya to marry his fiancée, a Kenyan national. Despite being a registered asylum seeker in Kenya, he was under a deportation order from the Kenyan authorities, based on an INTERPOL Red Notice from Turkey, which required him to report weekly to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters in Nairobi. On one of these visits, he vanished. Photographs were released several weeks later of him in handcuffs in Ankara.

Orhan İnandı, whom the Turkish government accused of links to the Gulen movement in 2019, was abducted in Kyrgyzstan with the involvement of the Turkish authorities in May 2021. One week after he went missing, İnandı resurfaced in police custody in Ankara.

According to a Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) 2023 report on transnational repression, since the coup attempt Erdoğan’s long arm has reached tens of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad. From spying through diplomatic missions and pro-government diaspora organizations to the denial of consular services and outright intimidation and illegal renditions, the Turkish government has been using a wide range of tactics against its critics overseas.

The government’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government and MİT persuade the relevant states to hand over individuals without due process, using various methods. The victims have suffered several human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, house raids, torture and ill-treatment during these operations.

In a joint letter in 2020 UN rapporteurs accused the Turkish government of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns, with at least 100 Turkish nationals renditioned from multiple states to Turkey. 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.

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