Turkey Pursues and Seizes Critics Abroad: Human Rights Watch

Feb 23 2024
Hamdi Firat Buyuk

February 23, 2024

International watchdog Human Rights Watch said in a report that Turkey is one of the leading countries involved in “transnational repression” – targeting government critics abroad.

Human Rights Watch, HRW said in its latest report, ‘‘We Will Find You’: A Global Look at How Governments Repress Nationals Abroad’, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is one of the leading states involved in targeting and pursuing critics outside the country.

“Governments across the globe are reaching beyond their borders and committing human rights abuses against their own nationals or former nationals to silence or deter dissent,” the HRW report said.

The report said that the Turkish government has openly stated that it is pursuing government critics abroad, particularly those who are allegedly linked to US-based Muslin preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding a coup attempt in 2016 against Erdogan’s government.

Since then, the Ankara government has been calling Gulen’s network the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation” or “FETO”. Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup attempt.

HRW gave the example of Turkish national Selahaddin Gulen, nephew of Fethullah Gulen, saying that he “went missing in May 2021 while travelling to Kenya to marry his fiancé, a Kenyan national”.

“Despite being a registered asylum-seeker in Kenya, he was under a deportation order from the Kenyan authorities, based on an Interpol Red Notice from Türkiye, which required him to report weekly to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters in Nairobi. On one of these visits, he vanished. Photographs were released several weeks later of him in handcuffs in Ankara,” HRW explained.

In November 2022, Turkey’s then vice-president Fuat Oktay said that more than 100 alleged Gulenists have brought to Turkey.

“The [Turkish Intelligence Agency] … ensured the extradition of more than 100 FETO terrorists from various countries to our country,” Oktay told parliament.

Erdogan’s government has strongly urged Balkan states to hand over alleged Gulenists and to close down any institution related to the Muslim cleric’s movement.

Most have resisted the Erdogan government’s call for extraditions, but the Turkish intelligence agency has been involved in several controversial operations to send back Gulenist suspects from Kosovo, Albania and Moldova, which sparked political rows in countries.

According to HRW, methods used by various countries to target their citizens abroad include killings, abductions, unlawful removals, abuse of consular services, the targeting and collective punishment of relatives, and digital attacks.

HRW called on countries that host government critics from other states to protect them.

“Governments should identify transnational repression as a specific threat to human rights, offer protection for victims, and take steps to ensure they are not complicit,” HRW said.

The report includes over 75 cases previously documented by Human Rights Watch, involving over two dozen governments including Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.