Myanmar to deport Turkish family amid crackdown fears


YANGON — Immigration police have detained a Turkish family and are trying to deport them to Turkey, where activists fear they will face persecution for alleged links to a preacher accused of trying to overthrow the government.

Teacher Muhammed Furkan Sokmen, his wife and their two-year-old daughter were stopped at Yangon airport on Wednesday evening as they tried to board a plane to Bangkok.

Sokmen was until recently a director at the Horizon International School that local media report has been investigated for links to Fethullah Gulen, a preacher accused of plotting a failed coup against Turkey’s president.

A video posted online appeared to show the family being held in a room inside the airport.

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“The Turkish ambassador has put pressure on the Myanmar police to try to seize my passport,” Furkan Sokmen says into the camera.

“Please help me. I await your help.”

Furkan Sokmen was placed on a flight to Bangkok late Thursday. His wife and daughter are believed to be en route to the Thai capital on a flight later in the evening.

Government spokesman U Zaw Htay said the family were stopped after Turkey cancelled Sokmen’s passport.  

“It has nothing to do with the Myanmar government,” he told AFP.

“He and his family will be deported as their passports are invalid.”

Immigration police at the airport and in Nay Pyi Taw refused to comment Thursday, while several calls to the Turkish embassy went unanswered. Officials from the Horizon International School did not answer phone calls Thursday.

More than 100,000 people have been dismissed or detained in Turkey since a failed attempt to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.

Erdogan blames the coup on Gulen — a claim he strongly denies — and has launched a relentless purge against those deemed to have backed the plot.

Earlier this month Malaysia deported three Turkish nationals wanted by Ankara for alleged links to Gulen.

A friend of Sokmen’s family, who lives in Yangon, said authorities had twice tried to put them on a plane to Turkey, but they had refused.

Human Rights Watch warned the family could face possible torture and prolonged detention, followed by an unfair trial, if sent back to Turkey.

“The Myanmar government should not let itself become complicit in endangering this family,” said fellow Richard Weir.

Their detention comes after three branches of the Horizon International School were recently shut down, in a case that appeared to stem from the institution’s links to Gulen’s movement.

Police had last year launched an investigation into the school for what were characterised as links to “terrorist organisations” shortly after Turkey’s failed coup.

Speaking to Frontier earlier this month, then-director Dr Aung Kyaw Sann said officials from the Ministry of Education had cleared the school of wrongdoing soon after the investigation last month.

The school’s other foreign directors have reportedly left Myanmar.

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