Two Turkish teachers who were detained in the Ukrainian city of Rava-Ruska on New Year’s Day have been deported to Turkey by Ukrainian authorities despite anger on social media against their potential removal, according to a statement from the Turkish Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
The reaction on social media was due to the fact that the teachers, who were working at schools in Iraq affiliated with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016 despite a strong denial from the movement, would most certainly face persecution in Turkey.
The teachers, Salih Fidan and Samet Güre, traveled to Kyiv 51 days ago to make their way to Europe to seek asylum because their Turkish passports were about to expire and they feared Turkish authorities would not renew them. They recently went to Rava-Ruska near Lviv, close to the Polish border, where they were detained by Ukrainian police on Dec. 31 among a crowd of people celebrating the new year. They were accused of entering Ukraine illegally despite the fact that the teachers entered the country with legal travel documents, according to a report on the ukraynahaber news website, which had interviewed the two teachers.
The teachers had to file asylum applications at the Ukrainian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to avoid their deportation but were deported before the asylum process was completed after Turkish Embassy officials in Kyiv reportedly took action to facilitate their return to Turkey. Despite the anger on social media, the teachers were forced to board a plane to İstanbul on the evening of Jan. 5 and were flown to Turkey.
According to a statement from the Turkish Interior Ministry on Wednesday morning, the teachers are being questioned at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s terror crimes department.
They are accused of depositing money in Bank Asya, a now-closed Islamic lender affiliated with the Gülen movement, following the corruption investigations of 2013 in which the inner circle of then Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was implicated.
Following these investigations, called a “coup attempt” by Erdoğan and his government, a crackdown was launched on Gülen movement members that culminated with the coup attempt of 2016. The Gülen movement denies any involvement in the corruption investigations as well.
The names of the teachers were also reportedly mentioned in the depositions of some people who were prosecuted on terrorism charges due to their alleged Gülen links and wanted to benefit from the so-called “effective repentance” law.
Since the coup attempt, followers of the Gülen movement have been subjected to a massive crackdown, with the Turkish government and pro-government media outlets demonizing its members.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the Gülen movement.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.