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Turkey’s Transnational Repression: 2023 in Review

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Since a coup attempt in July 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long arm has reached tens of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad. From spying through diplomatic missions and pro-government diaspora organizations to denial of consular services and outright intimidation and illegal renditions, the Turkish government has been using a wide range of tactics against its critics overseas. Turkey’s efforts at transnational repression did not wind down in 2023.

The government’s campaign has mostly relied on renditions, in which the government and its intelligence agency (MİT) persuade the relevant states to hand over individuals without due process, using various methods. The victims have suffered several human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, house raids, torture and ill-treatment during these operations.

According to a Freedom House report on global transnational repression cited by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), Ankara’s campaign primarily targets people affiliated with the Gülen movement, but the efforts of the government have expanded to include Kurds and leftists as well. Another report recently published by Freedom House and documented by SCF, revealed that Turkish authorities have committed 132 incidents, or 15 percent of the total, of direct, physical transnational repression since 2014, noting that Turkey has become the world’s second most prolific perpetrator of transnational repression.

MİT confirmed in its annual report for 2022 that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement,  a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Then-vice president Fuat Oktay earlier said in a speech in parliament that Turkish agents had conducted “diplomacy” with their counterparts in countries where Turkish nationals were abducted.

In a joint letter in 2020 UN rapporteurs accused the Turkish government of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns, with at least 100 Turkish nationals renditioned from multiple states to Turkey. In several of these cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) 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 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in its first resolution condemning all forms of transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights revealed the tactics of countries including Turkey to suppress their critics abroad. According to the resolution, the Turkish government’s tactics rely on “renditions, abuse of extradition proceedings, Interpol Red Notices, anti-terror financing measures, and co-opting other States to deport or transfer persons unlawfully.”

In its annual human rights report on Turkey for 2022, analyzed by SCF, the US State Department included the Turkish government’s transnational repression tactics to suppress its critics living overseas. “The government engaged in a worldwide effort to apprehend suspected members of the Gulen movement. There were credible reports the government exerted bilateral pressure on other countries to take adverse action against specific individuals, at times without due process,” the department’s 2022 report said.

Abduction, rendition and forcible return of Erdoğan critics

Businessman illegally brought to Turkey from Iraq and arrested over Gülen links  

Mehmet Cintosun, a Turkish businessman who was illegally brought to Turkey from Iraq by MİT, was arrested on terrorism charges due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement. Cintosun, who went missing in Erbil, Iraq, on January 29, was revealed to be in police custody in Turkey when photos of him were made public by MİT on April 14. More..

Turkish national renditioned from Tajikistan over Gülen links

Emsal Koç, a Turkish national who was illegally brought to Turkey from Tajikistan, was arrested due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement. Koç, who went missing in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on June 2, was found to be in police custody in the eastern Turkish province of Erzurum when the police contacted his family living in the province in July.

Koç had been residing in Tajikistan since 1994 and had worked at a school affiliated with the Gülen movement, prior to 2017. He was forced to get into a black car by three men when he left the warehouse where he had been working since 2017. More..

Turkey’s intel agency renditioned businessman from Tajikistan

Turkish businessman Koray Vural

Koray Vural, a Turkish businessman who had gone missing in Tajikistan in mid-September and was being sought by Turkey over his links to the Gülen movement, was renditioned by Turkey’s intelligence agency.

The state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) on October 5 released a photo of Vural in handcuffs flanked by Turkish flags, reporting that he was abducted in Tajikistan and brought back to Turkey as part of a MİT operation. According to local reports, Vural was kidnapped by unknown persons in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Sept. 16. He had been missing for 20 days.

Graduating with a degree in English language teaching from Tajik State University, Vural also completed his doctorate in the country where he had been living for 29 years. Initially working as a teacher in Tajikistan, he later ventured into business and established the Özyurt Restaurant. More..

Opposition deputy and leading rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu expressed concern that Vural might be suffering mistreatment in Turkey. Gergerlioğlu shared his thoughts on X, formerly Twitter, where he sent a tweet addressed to Nacho Sánchez Amor, the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur. “On the heels of your statement that according to the government’s narrative half of the country’s population consists of terrorists, another citizen of Turkey has been abducted and forcibly disappeared,” Gergerlioğlu tweeted. “Security officials insist on not making any comments on Koray Vural,” he said, adding that “he is at risk of torture.” More..

Turkey abducted two alleged Gülen followers from Algeria

MİT renditioned Mustafa Tan and Mustafa Bircan from Algeria as part of its international abduction campaign against alleged members of the Gülen movement. Tan and Bircan were handed over to the Ankara police after their rendition, AA reported.

The two are accused of organizing the movement’s presence in the North African country, according to the AA report. More..

Turkey’s intelligence agency confirmed the abduction of more than 100 people with alleged links to Gülen movement

Turkey’s intelligence agency confirmed in its yearly report that it had conducted operations for the forcible return of more than 100 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement. “… [M]ore than 100 members of the [Gülen movement] from different countries were brought to Turkey as a result of the [agency’s] increased operational capacity abroad,” MİT’s 2022 report said. More..

132 incidents of direct, physical transnational repression perpetrated by Turkey since 2014

A report by Freedom House on transnational repression revealed that Turkish authorities have committed 132 incidents, or 15 percent of the total, of direct, physical transnational repression since 2014, noting that Turkey has become the world’s second most prolific perpetrator of transnational repression.

The report, titled “Still Not Safe: Transnational Repression in 2022,” indicated that the Turkish government has relentlessly pursued exiles associated with the Gülen and Kurdish movements since 2014. More..

Turkey sought extradition of 1,269 from 112 countries over alleged Gülen links

Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç in August said the Turkish government has sought the extradition of 1,269 people living in exile in 112 countries over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Speaking to the pro-government A Haber private news channel, Tunç said the ministry has transmitted 1,387 extradition requests for 1,269 individuals. More..

Attacks and pressure on critics and journalists living abroad

Sweden refused to extradite 4 people on Turkey’s list, including a former police chief

The Swedish government decided to reject a request from Turkey for the extradition of four Turkish citizens, including former police chief Murat Çetiner. Turkish authorities have demanded the extradition of 42 people, up from a previous 33, mostly political dissidents, as the main requirement for ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership. More..

Turkish intelligence ordered assassination of exiled journalists Bozkurt and Güven

Independent journalist Erkam Tufan Aytav claimed on his YouTube program in January that a German woman of Turkish origin was ordered by Turkey’s intelligence agency to kill journalists Abdullah Bozkurt and Cevheri Güven, both of whom are living in exile in Europe. More..

Pro-Erdoğan daily targeted another Turkish journalist living in exile  

Ekrem Dumanlı, a Turkish journalist living in exile in the United States, was targeted by a pro-government newspaper that revealed his home address and published secretly taken photos, in the latest episode of a manhunt being carried out for journalists who have been forced to flee Turkey and reside overseas. More..

Turkey among 26 countries behind acts of transnational repression against journalists

A recent report by Freedom House identified Turkey as one of 26 countries engaging in transnational repression targeting journalists since 2014.

As increasing attacks on independent media globally were forcing journalists to flee their home countries, the report, titled “A Light That Cannot Be Extinguished: Exiled Journalism and Transnational Repression,” detailed how Turkey, among countries such as Belarus, Cambodia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia, targeted journalists abroad with transnational repression, putting their safety and work in serious peril. More..

Turkey used journalists to silence critics in exile

The government of President Erdoğan, which clamped down on media freedom at home, co-opted journalists working at government-friendly news outlets into becoming tools of cross-border repression, according to Frankie Vetch at Coda Story. Vetch said such cooperation “allowed the state to reach outside Turkey’s borders to intimidate journalists and dissidents who have sought refuge in Western Europe and North America.” More..

Turkey demanded Sweden silence journalists, shut down news outlet to secure NATO bid approval

In the midst of prolonged and deliberately protracted negotiations between Turkey and Sweden concerning Ankara’s endorsement of the Nordic nation’s NATO membership bid, Turkish negotiators insisted that their Swedish counterparts agree to the closure of Nordic Monitor, an investigative news website based in Stockholm managed by two exiled Turkish journalists. More..

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Swedish Union of Journalists released a joint statement criticizing Turkey for its attempts. “We believe that the Turkish government is applying pressure on its Swedish counterpart by requesting the country’s NATO delegations to close the website, whose articles are sometimes critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” the statement said. More..

Erdoğan’s long arm and international reaction against his global witch-hunt

Turkish Maarif Foundation signed MoU to take over Gülen-linked schools in Central African Republic

The Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMV), a state-run education body, signed a memorandum of understanding with Central African Republic (CAR) officials in February to take over schools in the country affiliated with the Gülen movement. According to the TMV, it had taken over 216 schools affiliated with the movement in 44 countries. More..

US State Department human rights report cited Albania’s closure of Gülen-linked schools

The US State Department included Albania’s decision to close two schools allegedly linked to the Gülen movement in its 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published in March. The report cited the Albanian government’s closure of the Mehmet Akif Ersoy girls high school and the Zübeyde Hanım kindergarten as examples of alleged human rights violations in the country, under a section titled “Discrimination and Societal Abuses.” More..

PACE revealed Turkey’s tactics in its first resolution on transnational repression

PACE, in its first resolution condemning all forms of transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights, urged action against transnational repression and revealed tactics used by Turkey, Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan to suppress their critics living abroad. Approving a report in June by Sir Christopher Chope (United Kingdom, EC/DA), the assembly expressed concern about Turkey’s use of some tools of transnational repression, particularly following a July 2016 coup attempt and its relentless pursuit of anyone allegedly related to the Gülen movement. More..

World leaders committed to strengthening democracy, defending against transnational threats and repression

World leaders who gathered for an online democracy summit committed to bolstering democracy and combatting authoritarian trends, protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and defending against transnational threats and repression. The second edition of the online Summit for Democracy 2023 was hosted by US President Joe Biden March 28-30. More..

US State Department started reporting on Turkey’s transnational repression tactics

In its 2022 annual human rights report on Turkey, the US State Department included the Turkish government’s transnational repression tactics to suppress its critics living abroad. The report identified the tactics as extraterritorial killing, kidnapping and forced returns; threats, harassment, surveillance and coercion; misuse of international law enforcement tools; and efforts to control mobility. More..

Former Kosovo intel chief sentenced to prison due to role in illegal deportation of Gülenists

In July a Kosovo court handed down a prison sentence of four years, eight months to Driton Gashi, the country’s former intelligence chief, due to his role in the illegal deportation of six Turkish citizens from the country in 2018. Gashi was convicted of “abuse of official position or authority.” The court also him from assuming any public position after serving his sentence.

*This report has been drafted by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and human rights with a special focus on Turkey.

Committed to serving as a reference source by providing a broad perspective on rights violations in Turkey, SCF monitors daily developments, documents individual cases of the infringement of fundamental rights and publishes comprehensive reports on human rights issues.

SCF is a member of the Alliance Against Genocide, an international coalition working to exert pressure on the UN, regional organizations and national governments to act on early warning signs and take action to prevent genocide.

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