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Kosovo parliament to investigate arrest of Turkish nationals

Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj (C) delivers a speech during a parliamentary session in Pristina, Kosovo on March 30, 2018. Erkin Keci / Anadolu Agency

The Kosovo parliament on Wednesday voted to set up a committee to investigate how six Turkish citizens were arrested and deported to Turkey in a move that activists say violated human rights, Reuters reported.

In a development that caused outrage around the world, the Kosovo police on March 29 arrested five educators working at schools linked to the faith-based Gülen movement in Kosovo as well as a doctor, after which Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) rendered them to Turkey.

On Friday Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj fired the Kosovar interior minister and secret service chief for failing to inform him about the arrests.

Haradinaj, who described the arrests as a “mistake,” has ordered a separate investigation.

According to Reuters, Avdullah Hoti, head of the lawmakers from the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which initiated the emergency session in the 120-seat parliament, said he was “shocked” by the arrests of the six Turks.

“Instead of being interviewed by authorities in Pristina, they were urgently deported to Turkey,” Hoti said.

Kosovar journalist Xhemajl Rexha reported on Twitter that after a six-hour debate, the parliament approved the creation of an investigative committee by a vote of 59 to one.

Speaking in a live television interview on Wednesday, Haradinaj said he had spoken to Washington and the European Union, Kosovo’s two main economic and political supporters, about the incident.

“I have assured the EU and Washington that this was a mistake and an accident, and I have asked them for their understanding and help to fix this,” Haradinaj told the private Dukagjini TV.

Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokesperson, on Tuesday slammed the arrest and deportation of the six Turkish nationals from Kosovo due to their links to the Gülen movement, saying the incident raises questions about respect for the due process of law.

Referring to Kosovo’s aspirations to become an EU member, the EU spokesperson said in line with its determination to build a free and democratic future, and also as set out in the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, all actions of local Kosovo institutions are bound by full respect for the rule of law and the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Arbitrary procedures concerning arrest, detention or exile go against these principles,” she added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday criticized Haradinaj for dismissing the interior minister and the secret service chief over the abduction of the six Turkish nationals to Turkey, threatening that he would pay for it.

Haradinaj paid a visit to the wives of six Turks and reportedly expressed his regrets over the incidents, saying that his government would take all the necessary steps to prevent such an incident from happening again.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, on Saturday tweeted that the six Turkish nationals who were arrested by Kosovar police on Thursday and apparently spirited out of the country by Turkish intelligence later in the day would face the risk of torture and abuse in Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government pursued a crackdown on the Gülen movement following corruption operations in December 2013 in which the inner circle of the government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated.

Erdoğan also accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the failed coup, Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt targeting the movement following the putsch.

A total of 62,895 people were detained in 2017 as part of investigations into the movement, according to Interior Ministry reports.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Jan. 5 said 48,305 people were jailed in 2017 alone over Gülen movement links.

Soylu said on Dec. 12 that 55,665 people have been jailed and 234,419 passports have been revoked as part of investigations into the movement since the failed coup.

On Nov. 16 Soylu had said eight holdings and 1,020 companies were seized as part of operations against the movement.

The number of people who have been investigated for alleged ties to the faith-based Gülen movement reached 402,000 in March, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on March 15.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 15, 2016 through government decrees issued as part of an ongoing state of emergency declared after the coup attempt.

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