Dozens of human rights groups are calling on Turkey to halt plans to deport Turkmen activists to Turkmenistan, warning they could face persecution at home.
Turkmen activists residing in Turkey have faced increased pressure in recent months, with a number of reports suggesting some are being detained, placed in deportation facilities, and threatened with deportation to Turkmenistan.
“Taking into account that Turkmenistan has a long record of severely punishing peaceful critics of its government, forcibly returning activists to Turkmenistan would place them at grave risk of persecution, including a high risk of arbitrary arrest, torture, and even enforced disappearance in prisons,” 33 Turkmen and international human rights organizations said in a joint statement on November 2.
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Since last year, Turkmen citizens in Turkey have staged protests against authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s economic crisis, and restrictions on basic freedoms.
In recent years, Turkmenistan’s diplomatic missions have refused to renew and replace Turkmen citizens’ passports, instead forcing them to return to Turkmenistan in order to renew their Turkmen identity documents.
As a result of this policy, many Turkmen migrants cannot comply with the migration laws of the countries where they reside, including Turkey, according to the 33 human rights groups.
Travel restrictions introduced to stem the spread of the coronavirus have also exacerbated the problem, leaving thousands of Turkmen migrants with expired passports without access to employment, education, health care, and freedom of movement.
The situation prompted Turkmen migrants in Turkey to organize a group of civil activists who participated in peaceful rallies outside Turkmenistan’s diplomatic missions and shared their problems on social media.
Those who criticize Turkmen government policies have been subjected to threats, “presumably as a result of pressure from the Turkmen authorities or the law enforcement authorities of Turkey,” the human rights groups said.
In addition, there are reports that Turkmen supporters of Berdymukhammedov’s government have been threatening and attacking Turkmen civil activists in Turkey, as well as their family members in their homeland.
Turkmen authorities have also reportedly drawn up a list of 25 individuals and handed it to Turkey, in an apparent attempt to quash criticism by having them detained and deported, the rights groups said.
While Turkey has long been sympathetic toward Turkmen migrants and had not penalized them because of expired passports, the rights groups said the situation recently changed as Ankara seeks to get Turkmenistan to join the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States at the body’s next meeting in Istanbul on November 12.
Ahead of the meeting, “There has been an increasing number of reports of the arbitrary detention of Turkmen civil activists by the Turkish police, their placement in deportation facilities, and threats of their immediate deportation to Turkmenistan,” the rights groups said.
“Changes in the policy pursued by the Turkish authorities towards Turkey-based Turkmen activists have occurred, apparently, in response to requests by the Turkmen government, which seeks to put an end to its nationals’ civic activities abroad,” they said.