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Europe’s top court fines Moldova for deporting Gulenists to Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Republic of Moldova violated the rights of five Turkish citizens by deporting them back to the country was seeking to arrest them for alleged links to the Gulen Movement.

Seven Turkish teachers who worked for a chain of private high schools, Horizont, were detained in a joint operation by  Turkish and Moldovan intelligence services.

They were then expelled from the country, though they were not charged with committing any crimes in Moldova.

In the early hours of September 6, 2018, Moldovan officials from Security and Intelligence Service raided some facilities of the Horizont Schools and detained seven Turkish teachers and a young man who was later released. 

The teachers were reportedly targeted over a criminal complaint filed by Turkey’s ambassador over their alleged links to the Gülen  Movement, led by US-based self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for masterminding the failed July 15 coup attempt in 2016. Gulen denies any involvement.

Their request for asylum was rejected by the Moldovan authorities before their deportation. The teachers are currently imprisoned in Turkey.

At the time, the Moldovan act sparked some protests in the United States (US) and Canada, in front of the Moldovan consulates in New York, Washington DC, Toronto and Chicago.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)  signed a statement calling on the Moldovan government to restore the rule of law, saying they were “deeply concerned by the lack of justice independence and subordination of justice to particular political interests” in the case of the abduction of seven Turkish teachers.

The ruling came upon the applications lodged by five of the seven Turkish teachers.

During the trials, the  ECHR rejected Moldova’s arguments, including the one that claimed the expelled Turks “would not have opposed expulsion to their country of origin.”

The Turkish citizens had clearly expressed their fear of being politically persecuted in their country of origin in the applications for asylum filed to the Moldovan government before their arrests.

The court found several violations in accordance with the ECHR, notably article 5 regarding the right to liberty and security and article 8 regarding the right to respect for private and family life.

“Depriving the applicants of their liberty in this way amounted to an extra-legal transfer of persons from the Moldovan territory to Turkey which circumvented all guarantees offered to them by domestic and international law,” the ruling read.

It also said the applicants were expelled by a joint intelligence operation using a special aircraft in what seemed like a premeditated plan that lacked legal grounds.

The Moldovan Government was fined 25,000 euros for each of the five Turkish citizens who took their cases to the ECHR, which will later rule on the other two since they applied later than the five.

Turkey’s global crackdown on Gulen Movement

Ankara launched a massive crackdown on Gulen’s followers not only domestically but also globally, as it deems the movement a terrorist organization that allegedly seeks to overthrow the Turkish government.

Turkey stepped up pressure on governments across the world, forcing them to close the movement-affiliated schools and to extradite Gulen supporters.

As of March 27, a total of 107 suspects linked to the movement have been brought to Turkey since the 2016 coup, following extradition requests for 504 people sent to 91 countries, state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported, citing Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.

Seven extradition requests have been sent to the US authorities for Gulen so far. Turkey also demands from the US the extradition of Gulen-linked figures, Cevdet Turkyolu, Gulen ’s private doctor Kudret Unal, journalists Ekrem Dumanli and Emrullah Uslu, former football player Hakan Sukur and ship owner Ihsan Kalkavan.

Washington, however, is reluctant to extradite, saying that Ankara has not presented sufficient evidence against them.

The Turkish minister paid extradition-related visits to the US delegations seven times, with the latest one scheduled on Tuesday. Gul met for the first time with US Attorney General William Barr, following his appointment on March 1.

Gul posted a Twitter message on Wednesday, saying the meeting tackled boosting judicial cooperation between the two countries.

“It is not possible for us to accept that there is still not any progress on this issue,” AA quoted the minister as saying on Wednesday.

The ruling can set precedent in other cases

Necdet Celik, a Bucharest-based Turkish journalist claimed that the ’s ruling could be a precedent in other cases in which Turkish citizens abroad have been deported, reported the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a network of non-governmental organizations promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values in Southern and Eastern Europe.

“There was a similar action taken by the United Nations (UN) at the end of May condemning such renditions to Turkey from Malaysia,” Celik told BIRN.

The UN Human Rights Council said in May that the deportation of three Turkish nationals from Malaysia was unlawful.

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