Leutrim Syla, a lawyer representing six arrested Turkish citizens, said late on Thursday that his clients are still in Kosovo, calling on Kosovar leaders to stop their deportation to Turkey.
“Regardless of Turkish media coverage, we have received credible information that our clients Orhan Özkan and 5 other Turkish citizens are being kept Kosovo and have not been transferred to Turkey yet,” Syla said in a written statement on Twitter.
“We look forward political leadership of Kosovo to step up and show leadership by stopping this deportation if our clients are still in Kosovo as mentioned. We are very concerned and worried about the safety of our clients,” he added.
Syla underlined that his clients, Cihan Ozkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Huseyin Gunakan, Mustafa Erdem, Osman Karakaya and Yusuf Karabina, will most likely face torture or ill treatment and harsh punishment if they are deported to Turkey.
On Thursday morning, Kosovo police arrested six Turkish nationals, one doctor and five educators, working at a group of schools affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016, The Associated Press and Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Following the reactions Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj tweeted that he was not informed about the operation, adding, “I will act in accordance with constitutional requirements.”
The Kosovo Interior Ministry said the residence permits of the six had been revoked after their arrest for “security reasons,” but it did not elaborate.
President Hashin Thaci also reacted the developments.
“Today we are disappointed because our relevant institutions, for reasons that remain to be clarified to the end, have failed to defend these principles related to the human rights of foreign nationals who live and work in our country. I am informed by the competent authorities after the event that six citizens were deported today to Turkey on the grounds that they did not have a residence permit in Kosovo.”
“We have been facing enormous pressure from the Turkish authorities in the past weeks to take actions against Gülen schools and their staff,” a Kosovo senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Months ago, Kosovo police arrested Uğur Toksoy, an educator with alleged links to the Gülen movement. Kosovo has not extradited Toksoy to Turkey, but the ordeal still sent shock waves throughout Kosovo’s Turkish community, some of whom told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) that they fled to Kosovo hoping to escape Turkey’s crackdown on the press and individuals and groups with ties to the movement.
The Gülistan Educational Institutions operate four Mehmet Akif elementary and high schools in Kosovo. The schools were opened by Turkish entrepreneurs inspired by the views of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.
Turkish President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government pursued a crackdown on the Gülen movement following corruption operations in December 2013 in which the inner circle of the government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated.
Scores of students marched to Pristina airport after finding out that six Turkish nationals who were arrested early on Thursday had not yet been deported.
Erdoğan also accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.
Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the coup attempt, Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt targeting the movement following the putsch.
A total of 62,895 people were detained in 2017 as part of investigations into the movement, according to Interior Ministry reports.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Jan. 5 said 48,305 people were jailed in 2017 alone over Gülen movement links.