By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) – Turkey must release two men detained over suspected links to a cleric blamed for a 2016 coup attempt and pay them compensation for arbitrary detention, a U.N. body said on Wednesday.
Academic Ismet Ozcelik and school principal Turgay Karaman were deported in 2017 from Malaysia to Turkey, where they were accused of ties to the network of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Ankara says sought an uprising the previous year.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has jailed more than 77,000 people pending trial since the 2016 coup attempt and widespread arrests are still routine in a crackdown critics say demonstrates growing autocracy in Turkey.
U.S.-based Gulen and his followers deny coup-plotting.
Saying it had violated the two Turkish men’s freedoms, the U.N. Human Rights Committee gave Turkish authorities 180 days to comply with its ruling. But it lacks any enforcement authority.
“The State party is obligated … to release the authors (of the complaint) and provide them with adequate compensation for the violations suffered,” the committee’s report on the case said, noting that Turkey’s membership of an international rights covenant required it to act and provide “effective remedy”.
Turkey had sought an exemption due to its state of emergency and the “serious and complex” nature of the pair’s alleged crimes, but the committee rejected that, saying it failed to explain how they posed a threat.
There was no immediate reaction from Ankara to the report.
Since the failed coup attempt three years ago, Turkish authorities have demanded the extradition of various people suspected of links to Gulen’s network.
While some countries, including Kosovo and Pakistan as well as Malaysia, have complied, others have refused.
Last year, six Turkish nationals were arrested and deported from Kosovo at Ankara’s request, in a move that led to Kosovo’s prime minister sacking his interior ministry.
In Pakistan, authorities deported a former director of a chain of private Turkish schools and his family to Turkey over alleged Gulen links in 2017. [nL8N1RB3WR]
Ozcelik and Karaman had lived in Malaysia for 13 years before their deportation. The U.N. committee said Karaman was the head of Time International School, an institution inspired by Gulen’s teachings.
His Hizmet movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments worldwide. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennyslvania since 1999.
(Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)