Turkey targets dissidents through transnational repression

The Turkish government has increasingly sought to target dissidents through transnational repression, Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House, told Yavuz Baydar in an Ahval podcast.

Citing Freedom House’s recent report “Turkey: Transnational Repression Case Study’, Schenkkan told Ahval that the Turkish government had introduced various new patterns of persecuting its diaspora communities, with mobility restrictions, detentions, and unlawful renditions becoming the core pillars of a global strategy.

The primary target of this translational repression is the Gülen movement, the religious group Ankara accuses of launching the 2016 coup attempt. Thousands of alleged followers of religious preacher Fethullah Gülen have been jailed since 2016, and Ankara has launched a “global purge” to match this domestic crackdown, Schenkkan said.

Turkey has a history of covertly targeting dissidents abroad. But Schenkkan said Turkey now openly carries out a systematic campaign against its perceived enemies, with these activities glorified in public statements by top officials.

In places like the Balkans, where Turkey has political influence, local authorities often receive favours for handing over alleged members of the Gülen movement. But elsewhere, Turkish authorities have used proxy organisations to achieve their aims. In Germany, the Osmanen Germania, a Turkish nationalist biker-gang, is reported to have threatened local Kurdish activists. While the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), a religious institution linked to the Turkish government, has been accused by German officials of surveilling alleged critics of Ankara.

Schenkkan said Turkey had also sought to cancel the passports of its citizens abroad, making it harder for them travel, and making it easier for them to be targeted for rendition. People who transit through Turkey to reach other countries are also vulnerable to mistreatment, making it an unsafe place for refugees or diaspora communities from China and elsewhere.

To address Turkey’s transnational repression, the international community should do more to hold Ankara accountable when its actions involve serious human rights violations, Schenkkan said. Steps to prevent government institutions being manipulated by local authorities were also necessary, he added.  

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.