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Moldova convicts ex-intel chief over illegal deportation of Turkish dissidents

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Vasile Botnari, the former head of the Moldovan secret service, received a suspended sentence and a substantial fine over the rendition of seven Turkish teachers to Turkey in September 2018, Balkan Insight reported on Wednesday, citing the general prosecutor of Moldova.

The Turkish teachers worked for Horizont, a chain of private high schools, and were apprehended in a joint raid by the Turkish and Moldovan secret services.

The secret service agents summarily deported the teachers to Turkey without granting them the right to asylum.

Intelligence officials reportedly targeted the teachers over a complaint filed by the Turkish ambassador. Turkey charged them with affiliation with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Ankara designates the group as a terrorist organization and accuses it of orchestrating a failed military coup in 2016.

The teachers received jail sentences ranging from six-and-a-half to 12 years and are currently imprisoned in Turkey.

“I asked the court today for permission to make public at least the summary of the decision. Botnari was sentenced a month ago [and] received a suspended sentence,” General Prosecutor of Moldova Alexandr Stoianoglo was quoted by Balkan Insight as saying.

According to Moldova’s criminal code, a judge can suspend the imposition of a sentence, which means they have essentially declined to impose a sentence but reserve the right to do so later. If the defendant violates a condition of the suspension, a judge can review the case and decide whether to revoke the suspension and, if revoked, what sentence to impose.

The Moldovan court also fined Botnari, ordering him to pay 125,000 euros, the amount Moldova lost in the cases of five of the teachers that had come before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Botnari will pay a further 19,000 euros for the charter flight used to deport the seven to Turkey.

The former intelligence head pleaded guilty in the case and took full responsibility for the orders he gave. He is the only person to face trial over the rendition of the teachers.

“There were [other] people involved, but we removed them from the criminal investigation, considering it incorrect to hold them accountable,” Balkan Insight quoted Stoianoglo as saying.

In June 2019 the ECtHR ruled that the Republic of Moldova had violated the rights of the five teachers by deporting them back to Turkey, where they faced arrest.

“Depriving the applicants of their liberty in this way amounted to an extra-legal transfer of persons from the Moldovan territory to Turkey which circumvented all guarantees offered to them by domestic and international law,” the ruling read.

According to a recent report by Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), extrajudicial renditions carried out by Turkey’s intelligence service (MİT) have resulted in the arrest of 101 Turkish citizens, some of whom ended up in black sites where they were tortured for months.

The AST report gives figures on Ankara’s crackdown on dissent.

“As of February 2020, investigations have been carried out on more than 610,000 people. The number of people arrested as a result of these investigations has already gone above 160,000 and counting. Currently, about 63,000 political prisoners are behind bars in the Turkish prisons. A total of 780 children are inside these overcrowded prisons, where their mothers endure agonizing troubles to raise them,” the report reads.

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