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Turkey Captures Six Gulen-Linked Teachers in Moldova

In the latest of its overseas operations, Turkey’s intelligence agency worked together with Moldovan authorities to snatch six teachers linked with Gulen-affiliated schools in the country, stirring up the domestic politics amid outrage from political opposition.

Early on Thursday morning, six Turkish teachers and a teenage have been remanded by the Information of Security Service of the Republic of Moldova (SIS), in cooperation with the Turkish spy agency. The young Turkish national one was later released.

Riza Dogan, Hasan Karacaoglu, Yasin Ozdil, Mujdat Celebi, Huseyin Bayraktar and Feridun Tufekci all of whom were working for Orizont Moldovan-Turkish Schools. 

Moldovan opposition figures, international rights organizations and watchdogs immediately showed a strong reaction to the capture of the Turkish nationals, something that, according to Moldovan politicians, occurred outside the normal legal procedure in the small country.

The Turkish nationals were taken by SIS agents, not judicial authorities as part of a legal investigation, into an unknown place for detention.

The pro-government Turkish media boasted about another “successful operation” by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), which expanded its efforts on a global scale to haunt real and perceived sympathizers of Gulen Movement.

The way how the operation was conducted and the fact that teachers are kept incommunicado in an unknown place fuels concerns that they may be deported back to Turkey as part of political negotiations between Chisinau and Ankara.

Amnesty International immediately urged Moldova to stop the deportation of teachers back to Turkey. All of the detainees, except Bayraktar, are asylum seekers and wait for their application to be completed by the end of this September.

Rebecca Harms, a Green member of the European Parliament, displayed her support of Amnesty call, which was issued in the local language, and pressed Moldovan authorities to dismiss Turkey’s demand. “Teaching children is not a crime,” she wrote on her Twitter account.

The issue has reverberated across the political aisle in this small country, which is torn between Europe and Russia in a geopolitical contest. The opposition erupted in fury and vehemently berated the Igor Dodon administration, which enjoys close ties with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Ankara.

“The Moldovan authorities illegally arrested seven citizens of Turkey, seven school principals and teachers who have been working for a while in the Moldovan schools,” Maia Sandu, former education minister of Moldova and a former presidential candidate, said. 

“They decided to deport these people to Turkey. We can only imagine what is going to happen to these people in Turkey where the authorities do not respect the human rights. This action by the Moldovan government proves that we are facing an authoritarian regime, which together with another authoritarian regime from Ankara decided to fight education,” she stated in a palpable display of disbelief and dismay.

In a video message posted on Facebook, the former minister noted that the main target was the education on this occasion. 

“Education is about freedom, education is about teaching people about human rights, education is about teaching people democracy and so on,” she said. 

Andrei Nastase, the leader of opposition Dignity and Truth Platform Party, joined her in blasting the government. 

He said he was astonished by the detainment of Orizont High School staff in Stalinist fashion.

“Moldova’s submission for violation of individual rights in exchange for the money it received for construction of the palace of Moldova Republic is unacceptable,” he said, recalling Ankara’s economic aid to finance the renovation of the presidential palace in Moldova. 

The president of Moldova has cultivated a cordial relationship with his Turkish counterpart. Erdogan was originally scheduled to visit the country on Aug. 27 on the National Day of Moldova, but the ceremony and visit have been postponed to October.

Nastase called for the unconditional release of the people who he said were unjustly detained. 

Nate Schenkkan, Director of Special Research at Freedom House, also dwelled on the incident. 

“Allegations at the time centered on the relationship between Ankara and President Igor Dodon, who had taken a very nice Turkish vacation over the holidays, and whose presidential palace is being renovated with Turkish money,” he wrote on Twitter. 

The Moldova incident is only a small part of a larger campaign relentlessly pursued by Ankara to haunt Gulen Movement members abroad. The Turkish authorities designated the group as a “terrorist organization” in a blanket definition and blame it for a failed coup in 2016. 

Since then, more than 150,000 public workers have been dismissed over alleged Gulen ties in Turkey. More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned pending trial over coup-related and terrorism charges. International organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say the Turkish government has so far failed to provide convincing evidence either about people’s imprisonment or dismissals.

Not only actual coup plotters were arrested, but large segments of society have become targets of post-coup crackdown and purge.

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