Turkish President Erdoğan’s crackdown on dissent felt as far afield as Pakistan

Around 300 Turkish people in Pakistan are refusing to return to Turkey, where they fear they will be targeted and blamed for last year's failed coup attempt.


Senin, 04 Des 2017 10:27 WIB

Fetullah Gulen, Turkish-Islamic cleric, currently residing in the US. (Photo: Antara)

Fetullah Gulen, Turkish-Islamic cleric, currently residing in the US. (Photo: Antara)

Over a year after Turkey was derailed by an attempted coup, the country’s President continues a widespread crackdown on critics and civil society.

The effects are being felt as far afield as Pakistan, where around 300 people - teachers and their families - are now living in fear of abductions and forced deportation.

Asia Calling correspondent Naeem Sahoutara reports from Karachi.

In Karachi, a Turkish family is rushing out to a weekend protest.

Outside the Karachi Press Club, doves are released as a sign of peace. Twenty five Turkish teachers plea for safety in Pakistan.

These families have lived in Pakistan for over two decades, teaching at a chain of international schools led by Fetullah Gülen, a moderate Islamic cleric from Turkey, who currently lives in the United States.

In the last 16 months, 28 Gülen schools and colleges across Pakistan have been closed down under pressure from the Turkish government. 

The staff now face deportation. And Ms Gulmez, the wife of a teacher, says they feel unsafe in Pakistan for the first time.

Last July, a failed coup attempt sent shock waves through Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the coup on his rival, Fetullah Gülen, and followers in the Gülen movement.

In the wake of the coup, President Erdoğan strengthened his grip on power, cracking down on journalists, academics, and anyone perceived to be a critic.

Following the failed coup, around 50 thousand people were arrested. They are still detained. 

“Journalists, activists, educationists, media workers have been prosecuted on the allegations of being linked to the Fetullah Gülen or Gullenist movement,” explained Saroop Ijaz from Human Rights Watch Pakistan.

“And there has been an absence of credible evidence to suggest widespread involvement or complicity of the people being prosecuted in Turkey by the present regime in the failed coup attempt,” he said.

At their height there were around 2000 Gülen schools all over the world. They taught Gülen’s brand of Islam, which promotes charity and service. But critics like Erdoğan say the schools also increase the funds and influence of a rival power base in Turkey.

Following last year’s failed coup, President Erdoğan pressured governments around the world to shut down Gülen schools and deport staff.

Pakistan dutifully closed Gülen schools. And last November, at the request of the Turkish government, 1500 Turkish staff from those schools were ordered to return to Turkey.

Ms Gulmez  told me she is afraid of what awaits in them there.

“There will be some kind of interrogation and may be arresting because our names are in their list, as we also heard from our embassy,” she said.

The teachers have filed cases in Pakistan’s courts. That has stalled the deportation of 78 families, but they are waiting for final verdicts.

Ms Gulmez maintains her innocence. 

“Because of Gülen group they put all of us in one basket although we do not have any violence or mixed in this claimed coup what they consider all of us same. In their eyes even a newborn baby is guilty,” she complained.

300 people from 78 Turkish families have registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and have been granted asylum for a year, until November 2018.

But teacher Mr Yilmaz says that has given them little safety.

“We were somehow feeling safe in Pakistan, we were living here under the umbrella of the UNHCR without visas issued even though we were jobless,” he said. “When, on 27th September 2017 that families are abducted from their houses since that time till today the people, the families, the ladies, the kids they feel they are not in safe place anymore.”

Former deputy principal, Mesut Kacmez and his family were allegedly detained by the Pakistani security agencies in the eastern city of Lahore in September this year. Weeks later, they were deported to Turkey against their will.

Human Rights Watch lawyer Saroop Ijaz argues Pakistan has a duty to protect the teachers, rather than folding to the demands of Turkey’s President.

“Pakistan does not need to or should not need to put its international credibility and its compliance with international obligations at risk because of the intent of carrying out political objectives of the Turkish government regime. I think it’s completely unacceptable and also a violation of international law,” commented Ijaz.

In Turkey, President Erdoğan is celebrating Turkey as place of hope for oppressed people the world over, pointing to how Turkey has taken in Syrian refugees.

But over 2000 miles away in Karachi, Yilmaz disagrees, saying he and others like him have given up on his own country.

“Just they (Turkish asylum seeker families) are passing days at home and waiting the help from the UNHCR to settle them in safer country. That’s only their wish,” commented Yilmaz.


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