Exclusive: Turkey, Kosovo violated fundamental rights of expelled teachers, UN body says

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Six Turkish nationals who were abducted by Turkey's National Intelligence Organization in Kosovo on Thursday are seen allegedly in the Turkish Embassy in Pristina. (Photo: Vocal Europe)

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that the arrest, detention and forceful transfer of six Turkish teachers by Kosovar and Turkish state agents in Kosovo on March 29, 2018 was arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards, according to a press release seen by Turkish Minute on Wednesday.

Kahraman Demirez, Mustafa Erdem, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Yusuf Karabina, Osman Karakaya and Cihan Özkan were arrested in Kosovo at Turkey’s request in March 2018 over alleged links to schools financed by the Gülen movement and a failed coup in 2016. The Gülen movement denies any involvement.

WGAD held that Kosovar and Turkish authorities’ deprivation of liberty of six Turkish citizens was in contravention of the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security, the right to an effective remedy, the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The UN group called on Ankara to release the six individuals immediately, and the Turkish and Kosovar governments to accord the victims an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

“In the current context of the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the threat that it poses in places of detention, the Working Group calls upon the Government of Turkey to take urgent action to ensure the immediate release of the six individuals,” the press release of WGAD read.

According to the UN report, the entire operation was planned and carried out by the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, which had assumed police authority and taken control of police offices, contrary to domestic and international legal procedure standards.

“Agency agents also issued orders to border control officers at the airport and it was the Agency, not the Ministry of the Interior, that obtained the airplane tickets and handled all the logistics of the transfer.”

Mr. Demirez, Mr. Erdem, Mr. Günakan, Mr. Karabina, Mr. Karakaya and Mr. Özkan were handed over to the Turkish agents at Pristina International Airport, the report said.

Days after the six men were expelled, Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, dismissed the country’s interior minister and secret service chief because he was not told the six would be deported to Turkey.

A parliament commission report concluded that the deportation was illegal and that the constitution was violated 31 times during the arrests.

Kosovo’s opposition has accused President Hashim Thaci of ordering the deportations because of his close relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thaci has denied any wrongdoing.

Günakan, one of the six, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ankara said the six were recruiters for a network run by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen and had helped people accused of links to his network leave Turkey during a security crackdown in which tens of thousands of people were sacked or jailed.

At its peak, the Gülen movement operated schools in 160 countries, from Afghanistan to the United States. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has pressured allies to shut down Gülen-run establishments.

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