Three Turkish citizens who were in Malaysian custody for allegedly threatening national security have been deported to their home country because of suspected involvement with a cleric branded by Ankara as a terrorist leader, Malaysia’s police chief said Friday.
International rights groups and organizations Friday slammed the Malaysian decision to forcibly send the three back to Turkey, saying their lives would be in danger. The men’s relatives in Malaysia accused the authorities of failing to notify them about their loved ones’ expulsion in the middle of the night.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar said Friday the three were expelled a day earlier because they allegedly belonged to a group labelled by Turkey as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
“Police found that they are involved in FETO and are wanted by the Turkish government. Their travel documents have been revoked by the Turkish government. Therefore, their presence in Malaysia is illegitimate and they are considered illegal migrants,” Khalid told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
FETO is also known by other names – the Gulen Movement and Hizmet (the Service). The social movement is led Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkish officials have accused of plotting to overthrow the government in a failed coup last year.
Since the arrests last week, Malaysian officials had deflected accusations that the suspects – Turgay Karaman, 43, Ihsan Aslan, 39, and Ismet Ozcelik, 58 – had been taken into custody at the bequest of Turkey’s government, a fellow Muslim-majority nation and ally that cooperates with Malaysia in countering terrorism.
“I don’t want to question their motives or their integrity but, looking from the outside, the arrests of these individuals appear to be under Turkish influence,” said Y. Alp Aslandogan, the New York-based president of the Alliance for Shared Values and a board member of the Gulen Institute – both associated with Fethullah Gulen.
“It is not reflecting well of Malaysia’s record on human rights and, therefore, I urge authorities … to be completely free of any Turkish influence,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview earlier this week.
‘They will torture him’
Aslan’s wife, Malaysian citizen Ainnurul Aisyah Yunos Ali Maricar, said she was shocked when she learned that her husband and the others were forced to leave Malaysia.
“I found out this morning from a journalist that my husband has been deported. I was not informed at all by the authorities,” she told BenarNews.
One of the other expelled men, Karaman, had been living in Malaysia for almost 15 years and served as principal of an international school in the state of Perak.
Aslan is a businessman, and Ozcelik was a board member of a university in Turkey shut down by authorities after the 2016 attempted coup. He had previously been arrested and jailed for 90 days by Malaysian immigration officials in December on charges of obstructing a public officer, after he was asked to show officials his passport.
The three Turks were all arrested during the first week of May under Malaysia’s Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), for allegedly carrying out activities that threatened the nation’s safety.
Last week, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Karaman and Aslan were taken into custody for suspected links to the Islamic State terrorist group. He offered no evidence to back up the claim.
This week’s deportations followed similar actions against Turkish nationals Alettin Duman and Tamer Tibik, who were arrested by Malaysian authorities and sent back to Turkey in October 2016.
Following the arrests of Karaman, Aslan and Ozcelik, their families pleaded with the Malaysian government to not send their loved ones to Turkey.
“If they don’t want (my husband) to be here, they can send (him) to other countries, but not Turkey because they will torture him,” said Karaman’s wife, Ayse Gul Karaman.
The organizations that criticized the expulsions of the three men included domestic and international rights advocacy groups and the United Nations.
In a series of tweets, Eric Paulsen, executive director of Malaysian NGO Lawyers for Liberty, asked what the trio had done to deserve to be deported to Turkey where, he said, they risked being jailed and tortured.
“This is in breach of international law prohibiting refoulement ….” Paulsen said on Twitter, using a legal term that refers to the forced return of a person who faces the prospect of persecution back home.
Josef Benedict, director for Amnesty International in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the Malaysian authorities had jeopardized the men’s liberty and well-being.
“They have already suffered a harrowing ordeal, being arbitrarily detained and held incommunicado. Now, they have been extradited to Turkey, where they could face arbitrary detention, unfair trial and a real risk of torture,” he said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson criticized the secretive nature of the men’s deportation, pointing out that their families were not notified.
He said the refoulement of Ismet, who was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was a clear violation of international human rights law.
“What makes this even more of a black mark on Malaysia’s already spotty right record is the fact that senior government officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister and the IGP, repeatedly denied Turkey’s involvement, and used apparently false claims of IS links or ‘local terrorism’ to justify their detention under the rights abusing SOSMA law,” Robertson said.
UNHCR’s Southeast Asia office expressed similar concerns over the safety of the deportees.
“Five people have now been forcibly returned to Turkey from Malaysia since last October. We have concerns that other Turkish nationals with alleged links to the Gulen movement may be similarly arrested and deported from Malaysia,” it said in a Facebook posting.
Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur and Roni Toldanes in Washington contributed to this report.