KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia said on Friday it had deported three Turkish men to Ankara over suspected links to a group blamed by Turkey for a failed coup last year.
Human rights groups condemned the deportations and the United Nations said Malaysia’s action raised serious concern for the safety of Turkish nationals in the region.
Authorities detained school principal Turgay Karaman, 43, businessman Ihsan Aslan, 39, and academic Ismet Ozcelik, 58, last week, saying they posed a threat to national security.
Rights groups said they were concerned the action had been taken against the men because of pressure from Turkey.
At the time the men were detained, authorities did not say whether they were suspected of having ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating last July’s failed coup, a claim Gulen and his followers deny.
Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the three were deported on Thursday on suspicion of being involved in FETO, a group of Gulen supporters that the Turkish government also calls the “Gulenist Terrorist Organisation”.
The Malaysian police investigation found that the three men had been involved in FETO activities and were listed as individuals wanted by Turkish authorities, Khalid said.
The Turkish government had also cancelled their travel documents, he said.
“As such, their presence in Malaysia is invalid and their status declared as illegal immigrants,” Khalid said.
The U.N. Human Rights Office in Southeast Asia (OHCHR) said in a statement it had serious concerns regarding the safety of the men upon their return to Turkey and that other Turks in Malaysia could be targeted for alleged links to Gulen.
Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Bangkok, told Reuters there was also concern that Turkey’s crackdown on the Gulen movement could spread beyond Malaysia to other Southeast Asian countries.
“Our concern is that other Turkish nationals with alleged links to the Gulen movement from across the region may be similarly detained and deported,” Meillan said.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also issued statements condemning the deportations. Amnesty said the men could face “arbitrary detention, unfair trial and a real risk of torture” upon their return to Turkey.
Karaman and Ozcelik, two of the men deported, were also listed as persons of concern by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, their families said in a statement.
“As persons of concern, Malaysia has the responsibility to ensure that they would not be returned to a country where they risk facing detention without trial and even torture,” the families said.
The Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said in a statement Ozcelik’s deportation was “a clear violation of international human rights law”.
Turkish authorities have arrested 49,000 people in relation to the failed coup out of 150,000 investigated. About 145,000 civil servants, security personnel and academics have been suspended or sacked.
Turkey has also applied pressure on other countries that are home to institutions backed by Gulen, whose Hizmet movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments worldwide.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel