Turkish man sent to jail after forced return from Myanmar

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Muhammet Furkan Sökmen, a Turkish national working for two schools established by followers of the Gülen movement in Myanmar, was forcibly returned to Turkey despite his pleas for help on social media and was subsequently arrested on Monday after spending nine days in detention.

A Hatay court ruled for Sökmen’s arrest on Monday.

Sökmen called for “help from the world” in a video recording he posted on social media minutes before he was handed over to Turkish authorities at Yangon International Airport by Myanmar police on May 26.

According to another video he earlier posted on social media, Sökmen, his wife Ayşe and daughter Sibel were detained by local immigration officials who told the family that Turkish government had invalidated their passports.

According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Sökmen was first forcibly deported to Bangkok on May 24.

“They take me to Bangkok. I am at the airport now. If they send me to Turkey, I will be jailed and most probably tortured like many other tortured under the current regime. … I am asking for international protection,” Sökmen said in another video.

Despite his appeals, he was taken to İstanbul in the company of Turkish police, on a Turkish Airlines flight.

An executive at the Horizon International Schools, Sökmen is also a partner of the Mediterranean International Education Services Co. Ltd., both based in Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch condemned forced return by Myanmar, Thailand

In a statement on May 26, Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said: “Both Myanmar and Thailand had the opportunity to do the right thing and provide this school administrator with access to #UNHCR so that his serious fears of persecution and possible torture if returned to Turkey could be examined. To do so would have been both humane and rights respecting, but both governments took the apparently cynical view that Turkey can do whatever it wants with its citizens, even those residing legally in other countries.

“Government leaders in #Yangon and #Bangkok have instead shamelessly chose to play the role of willing handmaidens to Turkey’s rights abusing campaign to strip its own citizens of their passports and force them back to a fate that could include possible torture, long pre-trial detention, and trials on trumped up charges before courts where proceedings are likely to be neither free nor fair.

“As a result, Furkan Sökmen will begin Ramadan this year in prison, separated from his wife and infant daughter, facing an uncertain but certainly very grim fate.

“His pleas sent in a video to HRW and others around the world from the Suvarnnaphum airport lock-up, to not be sent back to #Turkey speak for themselves. His voice stands as an indictment of #Thailand and #Myanmar’s cynical disparagement of the right of people to refuge and protection from political persecution.”

Turkey’s long arm abroad

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. After the putsch, the government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of masterminding the attempt. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

President Erdoğan earlier called on foreign governments to punish Gülen followers in their own countries. Only a few countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Georgia, seem to have complied with the request so far. (TurkeyPurge)

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