Turkey signed secret agreements with multiple countries in order to conduct extraterritorial abductions of suspected state dissidents, according to a joint letter penned by four UN rapporteurs.
The letter, dated early May, notes allegations of secret agreements signed with Azerbaijan, Albania, Cambodia, and Gabon – all countries that the UN has received reports of human rights violations regarding abductions of Turkish nationals.
Turkey also targeted nationals in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Pakistan, according to the letter.
“The Government of Turkey, in coordination with other States, is reported to have forcibly transferred over 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey, of which 40 individuals have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly abducted off the streets or from their homes all over the world, and in multiple instances along with their children,” the letter reads.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has intensified a crackdown against his critics in recent months, particularly against those with an alleged affiliation with a religious movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher who lives in the United States.
Last week news surfaced that arrest warrants had been issued for over 400 people, including soldiers, doctors, and teachers.
Erdogan has targeted the Gulen movement since 2016, when the organization, known in Turkey as Hizmet, was designated a terrorist organization and Gulen along with his supporters charged with leading a failed coup attempt in mid-2016.
The agreements signed were written in a way that has deliberately allowed Turkey to pursue its crackdown abroad, the UN letter said.
“The [Turkish] Government has signed bilateral security co-operation agreements with multiple States allegedly containing broad and vague references to combatting terrorism and transnational crime. Sources claim that the agreements have been phrased ambiguously to allow for expulsion or abduction of anyone deemed to be a “security risk” from third countries party to the agreements,” it said.
Abduction, torture, deportation
The abductions generally tend to follow a similar pattern, the letter said.
After Turkey has failed to secure a legal extradition, authorities resort to illegal covert operations. Targeted individuals are placed under “around-the-clock surveillance, followed by house raids and arbitrary arrests in undercover operations by law enforcement or intelligence officers in plainclothes,” the letter explained.
Once arrested, the target is taken to an unmarked vehicle by force, after which they can remain forcible disappeared for up to several weeks before deportation.
“During that period they are often subjected to coercion, torture and degrading treatment aimed at obtaining their consent on voluntary return and at extracting confessions that would inform criminal prosecution upon arrival in Turkey,” the letter said.
Turkish operatives tended used a variety of torture methods to obtain these forced confessions, including food and sleep deprivation, waterboarding, electric shocks and beatings, the rapporteurs wrote in the letter based on personal testimonies.
“This is coupled with threats against lives, security and personal integrity of family members and relatives,” the letter said.
Turkey denies this claims. In a response to the UN letter dated mid-June, Turkey calls the claims of torture “unfounded,” despite the testimonies listed by the UN.
Turkish President Erdogan had previously vowed to “chop the heads off the traitors” behind the 2016 coup. But Gulen leadership believe it was actually Erdogan that planned the “staged” coup as “an excuse…to expand the persecution,” Alp Aslandogan, a board member of the Gulen Institute and president of New York-based nonprofit Alliance for Shared Values, which is associated with the movement, told Al Arabiya English last week.
Turkey has a history of using broad measures with a vague aim of state security to crack down on dissenting voices.
In one example, Amnesty International calls Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws “vague and widely abused” in order to trump up charges against troublesome journalists. Over 319 journalists have been arrested in Turkey since 2016, with 189 media outlets shut down, according to Turkey Purge, a website run by Turkish journalists that documents arrests in the country.