UN concerned about Albanian deportations of Turkish nationals over alleged Gülen links: report

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Five United Nations human rights officials have sent a letter to the government of Albania to raise the cases of Harun Çelik, a Turkish citizen who was deported from Albania to Turkey in January, and Selami Şimsek, who is currently awaiting deportation in a “closed” migrant center, the Balkan Insight news website reported on Tuesday.

Both men are alleged by Turkish authorities to be members of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen’s movement, which Ankara claims is a terrorist organization responsible for a failed coup in Turkey in 2016. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

The letter from the UN officials, which was published on Tuesday in Albanian media but written on March 20, warned that Şimsek’s rights could be violated if he is sent to Turkey.

It says Şimsek “is likely to face detention, prosecution and, potentially, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, for his perceived or imputed affiliation to the Hizmet/Gülen movement.”

Şimsek was initially arrested at Tirana Airport and served time for using falsified travel documents. He was released from prison on March 9, but for reasons that remain unclear, police kept him for several hours in a civilian car before transferring him to a closed center for illegal immigrants near Tirana.

His supporters claim several high-level government officials demanded that an immediate expulsion order be issued.

His lawyer, Elton Hyseni, told the website on Tuesday that he has not yet received any official information about the case.

“We do not yet know whether his request for asylum has been accepted or not. [The authorities] have not explained why they are keeping him in the closed migration center,” Hyseni said.

The letter from the five UN officials also questioned Albania’s deportation of Çelik to Turkey.

“We are equally concerned that Mr. Çelik appears to have been expelled for his alleged connection to Hizmet/Gülen movement, reportedly without any due process guarantees afforded by relevant legislation,” it says.

Albanian police put Çelik on a plane to İstanbul on Jan. 1 despite his pleas for asylum. He had been a teacher in a Gülen-linked school in Kazakhstan, then attempted to escape to Canada using a false visa. He was arrested in Albania in 2018 and served time for falsifying travel documents.

His extradition to Turkey was described as a major human rights violation by the Albanian opposition, which linked the unusually prompt decision by police to send him to Turkey with the friendly connections between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The letter to the Albanian government was signed by Luciano Hazan, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Leigh Toomey, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Felipe González Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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