Fall out from arrest of asylum seekers lawyer in Turkey spreads

The fall out from the arrest of a German-commissioned lawyer by Turkish authorities has spread to the Netherlands.
The Netherlands public broadcaster, Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, reported that the country’s Immigration and Naturalisation Service had said that the confidential information of some asylum seekers had landed in the hands of Turkish authorities following the arrest of Yilmaz Sunar.
The Turkish pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah on Monday, reported, without citing sources, that the Dutch Government was hastily granting residence permits to Turkish asylum seekers, who are members of the Gulen movement.
Sunar was a member of the Istanbul Bar Association who worked as a legal counsel for the German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch embassies in Turkish capital Ankara. Sunar was arrested in mid-September on charges of espionage.
Initially, he was only linked with the German Embassy, with pro-government broadcaster CNN Turk claiming that “he may have worked for German intelligence.”

Turkish authorities accuse Sunar of acting against the country’s national interest by preparing reports for the foreign embassies on individuals living outside Turkey, whom Ankara claims are linked to terrorist organizations.

According to RTL Nieuws, there is great fear among Turkish refugees in the Netherlands that sensitive files, including their data, have ended up with Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP) government after the arrest of Yilmaz.

One of the Turkish refugees in the Netherlands called Metin, who reportedly chose not to use his real name, told RTL Nieuws that he is sure that his file is with the Turkish government.

Metin reportedly fled the country after the governing AKP started a manhunt on supporters of the Gulen movement in the wake of a failed coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016.

The Turkish government blames the movement, led by the self-exiled Muslim preacher living in the US since 1999, Fethullah Gulen, for masterminding 2016’s failed putsch bid.

Ankara also views Gulen and members of his movement as terrorists, although they have repeatedly denied any involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist incidents.

“Following the coup, a witch-hunt targeting Gulen’s followers was launched in Turkey. My name was probably told to the government officials by my business partner,” Metin explained.

He added: “The situation deteriorated quickly, and then I fled [Turkey] without my family. I have been living [in the Netherlands] without them for more than three years now.”

Metin stated that officials of the Turkish government searched his house in the presence of his family after he was gone and turned everything upside down.

He said the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) recently sent a letter to him, indicating that “his information has become known to the Turkish authorities, due to the arrest of a lawyer who, among other things, performed work for the Dutch embassy in Turkey.”

Metin emphasized that he fears for the safety of his family that has stayed behind as well as his safety since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also has “fanatical supporters” in the Netherlands who may attack him.

Olaf Koens, the Middle East correspondent for RTL Nieuws, commented that Sunar’s arrest over suspicion of espionage is “problematic” for giving the Turkish authorities access to sensitive information from the Netherlands, “with all the consequences that entail.”

D66 MP Jan Paternotte has also asked Ankie Broekers-Knol, the Netherlands State Secretary for the Ministry of Justice and Security, how many files have fallen into the hands of the Turkish government and how the state secretary will ensure that refugees like Metin are safe.

Metin is one of the thousands of Turkish nationals who sought asylum in the Netherlands since the government crackdown targeting the real and alleged members of the Gulen movement began in mid-2016.

There has been an evident increase in the number of Turkish applications for asylum in the Netherlands after the failed coup attempt of 2016. While there were 56 applications in 2015, the number quadrupled to 235 in 2016. It went on to increase to 481 in 2017 and 1382 in 2018.

So far, in 2019, reportedly a total of 1159 asylum requests made by citizens of Turkey, one of the top five countries from which the Netherlands receive asylum requests the most.

Elaborating on how Gulen supporters are currently being treated back in Turkey, Metin noted: “They are put in prisons and tortured. Some people are being held [in jails] without being charged. Some have been held in pre-trial detention for three years. Totally innocent people.”

As part of the operations targeting the movement, legal action has been taken against a total of 562,581 people with 263,553 being detained and 91,610 arrested, according to data shared by Feti Yildiz, deputy chairman of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Yildiz also announced that currently, 27,034 people in Turkey’s prisons are convicted of terror-related offenses regarding the movement, while some 38,904 people were dismissed from their jobs in the subordinate institutions of the Turkish Interior Ministry.

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