The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia on Friday expressed serious concern about the arrest in Malaysia of three Turkish nationals on security-related charges and has urged the Malaysian government to refrain from deporting them to Turkey.
“There are concerns that these men may have been targeted over their suspected links to the Gülen movement, which is accused of being behind a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016,” said Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
Turgay Karaman, the principal of an international school in Ipoh, and İhsan Aslan, a businessman, were detained by unidentified individuals in Kuala Lumpur on May 2. The inspector-general of the police reportedly said that the two men were being held for activities that threaten the safety of Malaysia. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the men were being investigated under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) for alleged activities related to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Provisions under SOSMA permit authorities to detain individuals for up to 28 days before being brought to court.
The statement received much criticism because the Gülen movement is known for repudiating an extremist interpretation of Islam and promoting dialogue with the West.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspires the movement, has been under attack by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his loyal media for his meeting with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in 1998, as part of the Muslim cleric’s outreach and dialogue efforts among faiths.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, had called on the Malaysian government to ensure that “under no circumstance” should the two men be extradited to Turkey, where they could face torture and an unfair trial.
“There is little doubt that if they are returned to Turkey, they will face torture in detention, and if charged with crimes there, be subjected to a trial that will fall far short of fair trial standards,” HRW’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement, according to The Guardian.
On May 4 Ismet Ozcelik, a university director also residing in Malaysia, was arrested on the same charges.
In October 2016 two other Turkish nationals were detained in Malaysia and were deported the following day. Both men were arrested upon their return to Turkey where they remain in detention without trial. “We are very concerned that the three men arrested this week may face the same fate as the other two individuals deported to Turkey last year,” said Meillan.
“We call on the Malaysian government to ensure that the three men are given a fair trial in Malaysia and urge authorities not to extradite them as we have serious concerns regarding their safety if they are deported to Turkey.”
The Turkish Embassy is reported to have asked Malaysian authorities to close down Gülen-linked schools in the Asian country as in many other countries in late September. The Turkish ambassador reportedly asked authorities to take legal action against sympathizers of the Gülen movement as well.
The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding a July 15 coup attempt, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.
The movement is known for its educational and aid activities in over 170 countries, but Turkish Foreign Ministry bureaucrats have been trying to expand domestic pressure to overseas subsidiaries of the movement in the recent past.