(TBILISI) – Tbilisi’s City Court upheld a ruling by the country’s Refugee Ministry and refused to grant refugee status to a Turkish national who was detained in May for alleged terrorist links and connections with Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Islamic cleric accused by Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of organizing a coup attempt against his government in July 2016.
Georgian Court Refuses Refugee Status to Turkish National for Alleged Terror Links
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, November 23
Emre Cabuk, who has been living in Georgia since 2002 and has served as a Quality Management Manager of Demirel Private College since 2016, said he had no connection with Gulen, the coup or any groups with terrorist links.
During his hearing, Cabuk testified that he was not in Turkey and the time of the coup, saying his last visit to the country was in 2015. He rejected the allegation that he was guilty of a crime or being linked to terrorism simply because he agrees with some of Gulen’s views.
“I do not believe Gulen planned the coup. England (UK), Germany...the EU also stated they could not find any evidence that he had a hand in the in the plot,” said Cabuk. “I like Gulen’s ideology; I read his books. I have also read other books and shared the views of various other writers. Does this mean that I am responsible for the crime if go out and commit one?”
Cabuk said his life could be at risk if he is extradited to Turkey, claiming his family has already been threatened.
“Everyone who worked at the Demirel College and later returned to Turkey are all in prison,” Cabuk told the court.
Cabuk’s lawyer Soso Baratashvili claimed his “fate had already been decided” after a meeting between Georgian and Turkish officials in May, short before his detention.
“It appears our country is not ready to make an unbiased decision in the cases like that,” Baratashvili said, before adding that he plans to appeal the City Court’s decision.
The balancing act Tbilisi has played with Erdogan’s Turkey has been perilous. Ankara remains a main trade and strategic partner for Georgia, as well as one of its largest foreign investors outside of the former Soviet republics. Georgia has had to regularly turn a blind eye to many of Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian internal policies.
The political opposition in Georgia and members of the country’s civil society slammed the court’s decision, calling it “unjust, unfair and politically motivated”.
Georgia’s Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, who had demanded that Cabuk be given refugee status to prevent his extradition to Turkey, offered a sharp public rebuke of the court’s decision
Georgia’s Refugee Ministry claimed that Cabuk will not be in any danger once he’s deported to Turkey after Ankara was put on notice by the international community for its treatment of individuals and organizations who oppose the Erdogan regime.
They Refugee Ministry claims they’ve received diplomatic assurances from the Turk, who offered to allow Georgian representatives to monitor Cabuk’s case once he’s extradited.
Cabuk was detained on May 24 shortly after an official visit to Georgia by Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
Gulen, an elderly Islamic cleric who was once a powerful ally and mentor of Erdogan’s early in his career, lives in self-imposed exile in the United States. He is a regarded as a spiritual leader by many in Turkey, one who promotes a tolerant, conservative form of Islam that emphasizes modesty, tolerance, hard work and education.
As the leader of a movement known as Hizmet, Gulen runs schools all over Turkey and around the world, including in former Soviet Republics.
Erdogan began to crack down on the Himzet movement in 2012-2013, shutting down Gulenist schools and forcing people with alleged ties to the cleric out of the security services, state institutions and government ministries.
In the years since his initial attempts to shut down Gulen’s activities, Erdogan has extended his attacks to anyone who appears to be in opposition to his regime.
In the wake of the failed July 2016 coup, Erdogan carried out a massive purge of Turkish society. An estimated 333,000 people have been arrested, detained or fired for alleged ties to the coup plotters or Gulen, including 308 journalists – the highest recorded number in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The crackdown also included the closure of 187 media outlets who opposed Erdogan’s government and the forced dismissal of more than 13,000 academics, judges and lawyers.