A Freedom House case study focusing on Turkey as a host country recently said that many dissidents fleeing repression in Central Asia, Egypt, Russia, Iran, and China and have made their home in Turkey for decades continued to face the risk of assassination, assault, detention and rendition, adding that they documented 56 incidents of physical transnational repression that took place inside the country from 2014 to 2021.
“Turkey has demonstrated the ability to respond effectively to the threat of transnational repression on its soil. However, the degree and nature of the response is largely driven by foreign policy considerations. When the origin state using transnational repression is an adversary, Turkey protects the targeted and punishes the perpetrators. When the origin state is a friendly nation, Turkey silences activism and endangers the already vulnerable,” the report said.
Referring to the situation of Uyghurs in Turkey, the report underlined that it relied heavily on the relationship between Turkey and China, with Beijing’s economic investment in Turkey having grown significantly since 2016.
“In 2017, the two countries signed an extradition agreement that could facilitate the return of Uyghurs to China if charged with terrorism. The treaty was ratified by China in late 2020 and remains unratified but under consideration by the Turkish parliament as of the writing of this report. … The increasingly precarious legal situation of Uyghurs in Turkey … accomplishes one of the primary goals of transnational repression: silencing dissent,” the report said.
It also referred to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, saying that Turkey’s response to what was likely an act of transnational repression orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “swift” at first.
“Within weeks of the assassination, pro-government newspapers in Turkey had published transcripts of the audio recording of the killing. … President Erdoğan stopped short of accusing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman personally of the murder but laid the blame squarely on the Saudi government,” the report said, adding that Turkey ended up paying a significant price for its response to the murder, with Saudi Arabia instituting a costly unofficial boycott of Turkish goods and travel to the country.
Saying that the Turkish government recently agreed to a request from Saudi authorities to transfer the trial being held in connection with Khashoggi’s murder to Riyadh, the report underlined that the decision amounted to “an abandonment of Ankara’s efforts to pursue accountability for a heinous assassination committed on its territory,” and it reflected “Erdoğan’s desire to improve his relations with the Saudi leadership, particularly in light of Turkey’s worsening economic situation and its need for foreign investment.”
The report was concluded with recommendations to the Turkish government, saying that they should use regular channels of bilateral legal cooperation, re-evaluate the practice of distributing humanitarian residence permits, establish safeguards within deportation procedures, ensure that Uyghurs of any nationality are not deported to third states, review existing information-sharing channels established to combat organized crime and terrorism and expand and formalize existing practices of warning and protecting individuals.
According to Freedom House’s second major report on transnational repression, which was released on June 2 and titled “Defending Democracy in Exile: Policy Responses to Transnational Repression,” the vast majority of transnational repression incidents in 2021, 74 percent, took place in countries rated “Not Free” by Freedom House, which includes Turkey.
Turkey became more dangerous in 2021 for people targeted by foreign regimes—particularly those of China and Turkmenistan, the report said, adding that incidents of transnational repression that took place in the country accounted for a quarter of the total recorded by Freedom House last year.
Turkey conducted at least 58 renditions since 2014, mainly targeting Gülen-linked individuals
As part of its current campaign of transnational repression, the Turkish government conducted at least 58 renditions in at least 31 different host countries spread across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia since 2014, targeting primarily individuals affiliated with the Gülen movement, which makes Turkey a country with the largest number of renditions in that time period, another Freedom House case study on Turkey said in 2021.
“The campaign is … notable for its heavy reliance on renditions, in which the government and its intelligence agency persuade the targeted states to hand over individuals without due process, or with a slight fig leaf of legality. … No other perpetrator state was found to have conducted such a large number of renditions, … and the documented total is almost certainly an undercount,” the report said.
According to 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 Gülen movement have been brought back to Turkey as part of the government’s global campaign.
During the past year, the Turkish government did not hesitate to refer to extrajudicial and illegal methods as part of its propaganda, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioning the forcible return of Turkish nationals in his speeches as part of the country’s counterterrorism success.
According to Freedom House, the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, triggered a transformation in Turkey’s use of transnational repression, with Ankara initiating a “global purge” that mirrored its domestic crackdown after the attempted coup.
“Both operated on the basis of guilt by association, condemning people for their real or suspected connections to the Gülen movement, often with little effort to link them directly to the coup attempt itself. The result is that many targets of renditions have been teachers or education administrators who worked at schools that the Gülen movement runs around the world,” the report said.
“Ankara’s aggressive campaign has had significant local repercussions,” the report further said, explaining that the head of the intelligence agency was forced to resign after the March 2018 renditions in Kosovo and the head of Moldova’s intelligence service was convicted and given a suspended sentence for his involvement in a similar set of renditions there.
Although Ankara’s campaign has primarily targeted members of the Gülen movement, which the government blames for the 2016 coup attempt, the effort has recently expanded, applying the same tactics to Kurdish and leftist individuals, the report said, adding that the practice of transnational repression has grown more extreme as the country has shifted toward more consolidated authoritarianism under Erdoğan, with overwhelming power concentrated in the presidency.