ECtHR urges Albania not to deport Gülen follower to Turkey

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg sent an official request to Albania asking it not to deport a Turkish citizen who is known to be a follower of the Gülen movement to Turkey as his trial has not been concluded in Albania, the Tirana Times, a weekly English language newspaper, reported.

The ECtHR ruling concerns an application filed by Selami Şimşek, who along with another Turkish citizen, Harun Çelik, were arrested in 2019 in Albania while trying to travel to Canada with fake passports. Çelik, a Turkish teacher at a school formerly affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement in Albania, was illegally deported to Turkey in January 2020 at the request of the Turkish government, despite extradition procedures not being followed and the fact that he had sought asylum.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Upon release from prison in March 2020, Şimsek also applied for asylum in Albania, due to his links to the Gülen movement, fearing that returning to Turkey would put his life in danger.

His request was rejected by the Albanian authorities, who claimed that the Turkish state did not pose a serious threat to him or his family. Şimşek later sued the Albanian Interior Ministry due to the refusal of his asylum request. His attempt to reverse the decision of the ministry was also rejected by an administrative court in Albania. As a last step, Şimşek took his case to the ECtHR. The Albanian authorities and Şimşek’s lawyer were informed of the ECtHR ruling last Friday.

The cases of Şimsek and Çelik have raised concerns among the opposition and civil society in Albania as well as international organizations, which fear Albania is not respecting its obligations towards human rights conventions due to its close ties with Turkey.

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.

Turkey had previously been able to bring Gülen-affiliated individuals back home without official extradition processes in several countries such as Kosovo and Moldova.

Turkish officials claim more than 100 Gülen followers have been brought back to the country since the failed 2016 coup.

In the latest such development, two Turkish teachers who were detained in the Ukrainian city of Rava-Ruska on New Year’s Day were deported to Turkey on Jan. 6 by Ukrainian authorities. The teachers, Salih Fidan and Samet Güre, were working at Gülen-affiliated schools in Iraq and were trying 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.

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