Freedom House report shows extent of Turkey’s transnational repression policy

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A report by Freedom House on global transnational repression published today reveals the intensity, geographic reach and suddenness of the Turkish government’s campaign targeting dissidents abroad, noting that Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom.

The report, titled “Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach,” indicates that the Turkish government has pursued its perceived enemies in at least 30 different host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia since a coup attempt in July 2016.

The global analysis in Freedom House’s report is supplemented by detailed case studies on six leading states that practice transnational repression: China, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Turkey. These countries stand out due to the extent and violence of their campaigns.

“Preventing transnational repression will require examining the ways in which origin states manipulate migration and asylum systems to target those who flee,” said Nate Schenkkan, director for research strategy at Freedom House and coauthor of the report.

“Ankara’s campaign has primarily targeted people affiliated with the movement of religious leader Fethullah Gülen, which the government blames for the coup attempt,” said the report, adding that “[r]ecently, however, the effort [of the Turkish government] has expanded, applying the same tactics to Kurdish and leftist individuals.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigations as well as journalists who reported on them.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.

The coup attempt triggered a transformation in Turkey’s use of transnational repression, and the main tactics of Turkey’s global campaign have been mobility controls, detentions and illegal renditions, the report said.

According to recent official statements by its interior ministry, Turkey has sent 800 extradition requests to 105 countries in the last four years, and more than 110 alleged members of the movement have been brought back to Turkey as part of the government’s global campaign.

In its own research, Freedom House was able to identify 58 people rendered from 17 countries. The report also included other recent incidents that “underscore the expansion of the rendition tactic to non-Gülenist targets.”

The report sheds light on the corruption and co-optation of some host country institutions including local police or security services that arrested Turkish citizens, who are then held in detention for a short period before being secretly transferred to Turkish custody and immediately taken to Turkey on Turkish aircraft.

“Turkey’s top officials openly claim credit for the kidnapping offensive against the Gülen movement, and praise the role of the MİT in the renditions,” the report stated.

According to the report, the Turkish government has tried to exploit Interpol to target exiles and attempted to upload some 60,000 names onto the agency’s notification system.

The report also reveals how the Turkish government strengthened its ties to overseas nationalist groups like the Osmanen Germania, which was banned by German authorities 2018, and how its Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) has become an instrument for surveilling exiles.

Previously, the Turkish government was accused by UN rapporteurs of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns to Turkey, with at least 100 Turkish nationals from multiple states including Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Gabon, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Pakistan removed to Turkey.

In different cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

In an opinion on the summary extradition of Arif Komiş, 44, Ülkü Komiş, 38, and their four children from Malaysia to Turkey in August 2019, WGAD expressed its concern “over the pattern that all these cases follow and recalls that under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.”

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