Kosovo Probes Deportation of Arrested Turks
Kosovo’s government is in disarray after revelations of “secret and urgent” deportations of six Turkish nationals, unauthorized by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, led to the sacking of Kosovo’s Interior Minister and the head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency.
On Mar. 29, 2018, Kosovar police arrested five Turkish nationals, all of whom worked at Mehmet Akif schools, which are linked to Gulistan Educational Institutions. Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramish Haradinaj informed Kosovar media that the five teachers were detained due to their lack of valid residence permits; however, school officials claimed that the arrested individuals all had residence permits that were valid until 2022. The director of the Mehmet Akif College in Lipjan, Nazmis Ulus, suggested that “Turkey’s pressure on all Balkan countries” was the real reason behind the arrests. Kosovo’s Ministry of Internal Affairs later clarified that the permits were annulled on the basis of national security.
The current government of the Republic of Turkey, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suppressed a coup attempt by a faction of the Turkish military in July of 2016. Erdogan accused exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen for masterminding the coup attempt and proceeded to purge Turkish state institutions of “Gulenists,” clamped down on public dissent in an apparent slide towards growing authoritarianism, and exerted diplomatic pressure on foreign countries to shut down alleged Gulenist organizations on their soil.
Turkey also filed an increasing number of extradition requests with its European and North Atlantic Treaty Alliance partners related to pursuing “Gulenists” abroad. While Germany, Greece, the United States, and the United Kingdom have all either declined or delayed extradition of suspects wanted by Turkey, Kosovo became the first European country to arrest a Turkish national, an “alleged Gulenist teacher,” on a Turkish warrant in October 2017. The Kosovar prosecutor ultimately dropped the case for extradition to Turkey in December 2017.
Turkish media outlets reported on Mar. 30, 2018, that the five teachers arrested on the previous day, along with a Turkish doctor, were deported to Turkey, with President Erdogan praising Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization for its cooperation with the Kosovo Intelligence Agency in bringing the six “senior [Fethullahist Terror Organization] representatives in the Balkans back to Turkey.”
Kosovar Prime Minister Haradinaj denied knowing about the speedy deportation of the six Turks, stating on Twitter that he had not been informed about the operation. The speaker of Kosovo’s unicameral parliament also condemned the deportations as not representative of “the proper form of development of the rule of law or the correct consolidation of democracy.”
Prime Minister Haradinaj announced the dismissal of Minister of Interior Affairs Flamur Sefaj and Kosovo Intelligence Agency chief Driton Gashi by the end of Mar. 30 on the basis that the “operation of urgent and secret detention and deportation of six Turkish citizens” from Kosovo to Turkey “was conducted without informing, nor requesting my permission as Prime Minister.”
Turkey slammed Kosovar Prime Minister Haradinaj for dismissing his two ministers over the affair, with Turkish President Erdogan called Haradinaj’s actions as “defending those who attempted a coup against Turkey.” Conversely, human rights groups in Kosovo and abroad have criticized the deportation of the six Turks. A European Union official, in statements on Apr. 5, 2018, warned that the arrest and deportation of the Turkish nationals “raised many questions in Brussels, on due process, transparency, and justice” and reiterated that Kosovo’s institutions “must be bound by full respect of the rule of law and international extradition rules.”
The Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo adopted a resolution on Apr. 4 to establish a committee to investigate the controversial deportation of the six Turkish nationals. Meanwhile, Kosovar Prime Minister Haradinaj faces an increasingly hostile political situation in the Assembly. Last week’s arrest of the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo led to the main Kosovo-Serbian party, with ten seats, to withdraw from the Haradinaj’s ruling coalition and go into opposition. As such, the governing coalition now only holds 51 seats in the 120-seat chamber. Unless the fractured opposition can muster 61 votes to oust Haradinaj’s coalition, Haradinaj will continue as Prime Minister, albeit heading a weakened and increasingly beleaguered government of Kosovo.