Greece Becomes Outpost in Turkey’s “Anti-Terror” Campaign

by Apostolis Fotiadis, published in IPS

ATHENS, Apr 13 2013 (IPS) – Zeki Gorbuz, a Turkish asylum seeker in Greece, who was arrested on Feb. 12, remains detained today due to an international warrant that was transmitted by Turkish authorities to Greece just one day before his asylum interview. Turkish media were quick to report the arrest, describing Gorbuz as a radical leftist and regional leader of the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLCP), which has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government.

On the same day that Gorbuz was detained, Bulent Aytunc Comert, who arrived in Greece as an asylum seeker in 2002, was also arrested. His request for asylum was approved in 2003 but was never cleared by the ministry of police.

Branded by Turkish authorities as a member of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), Comert is a fugitive. He was imprisoned in the notorious solitary confinement units known as the “White Cells” on what he says was a fabricated murder charge.

“Members of several civil society organisations and student groups [in Turkey] have been put into prison, often on flimsy evidence and based on the anti-terrorism law that can be used to charge pretty much any form of dissent as terrorism.”

Having come here to escape persecution, Gorbuz and Comert, like many other Turkish political dissidents and Turkish Kurds, are now stuck in no-man’s land, suspended between the highly bureaucratic Greek immigration and asylum system, and an extremely hostile government in Turkey.
Indications of a secret deal to return asylum seekers in Greece to Turkey are surfacing, while human rights activists warn of the grave impacts of Greece’s plan to extradite persons in need of international protection against criminal charges that might be fabricated by Turkish authorities.

According to Turkish media reports, a Feb. 4 meeting between Turkish Chief of Police Mehmet Kiliclar and Greek Police Chief Nikolaos Papagiannopoulos ended with the Greek official’s promise to dismantle Kurdish as well as radical leftist “Turkish terrorist cells” here.

A month later, on Mar. 4, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited Turkey for a high profile meeting with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, where the two heads of state signed 25 cooperation deals covering areas such as health, tourism and fighting illegal migration.

That same day, the Ankara Strategic Institution pointed out that private Turkish investment in Greece has been used as a pressure tool in order to promote the deal on extradition. More reports followed referring to preparations for extraditions but the Greek government is yet to responded to any of them.

Besides Gorbuz and Comert, three more asylum seekers have been arrested since February, including Meric Serkan on Feb. 14, Fadik Adauman on Feb. 26 and Huseyin Cakil on Mar. 6. All are wanted by Turkish authorities for “terrorist activity” and, according to the Greek Council for Refugees, all five have been victims of torture during their detention in Turkey.

The activist group Movement for Freedom and Democratic Rights (KEDDE), which has been a whistleblower on the deal between Turkish and Greek authorities, says there is no guarantee of Turkish dissidents’ safety if they are forced to return.

“People arrested under the Turkish anti-terror law are subject to a long detention with an indefinite time limit and with no access to their case file until the beginning of the trial (which could be situated two years later),” according to a statement on the group’s website.

“It might also mean they become subject to the jurisdiction and judgment of special courts, for the operation of which Turkey has been several times condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, since these courts make use…as means of ‘proof’ confessions extorted through torture.”

Cakil’s case was tried in the Greek city of Thessaloniki and, given that his asylum claim has been informally accepted and is pending ministry clearance, the move to extradite him was denied.
Gorbuz and Comert who were apprehended in Patras, about 215 kilometres west of Athens, were also spared extradition but they will now have to face a court of second instance.

Given that most cases here take months or even years just to reach court, let alone a decision, this “rapid response by Greek authorities…is indicative of political interests (both Greek and Turkish) behind the cases,” lawyer Dimitris Sarafianos, member of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH), told IPS.

He believes it “strange” that the prosecutor of the court of second instance appealed the decision in “absolute contradiction with the fact that the prosecutor of the hearing had pointed out that the charges were heavily unfounded, requesting for the continuation of the detention of one refugee (Gorbuz).”

“Given the persistent rumours referring to a secret agreement between the two Prime Ministers, Samaras and Erdogan, concerning matters of extradition of asylum seekers to Turkey, it is clear that the Greek government is prompt to violate the Geneva Convention,” the lawyer said.

According to Sarafianos, who participated in an ELDH fact-finding mission to Turkey, over 10,000 citizens of Kurdish origin are currently faced with charges, as are scores of Turkish unionist in the private and public sectors, professors, students and lawyers defending human rights.

The extradition deal currently being worked out the with Greek authorities appears to be part and parcel of this ongoing wave of detentions and arrests of political dissidents as well as suspected members of the DHKP-C – branded a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union — and members of Turkey’s Contemporary Lawyers Association (CHD).

Earlier this year, Erdogan rushed to connect the DHKP-C with the Feb. 1 bombing of the U.S embassy in Ankara.

Dr. Kerem Oktem, expert on contemporary Turkish politics and research fellow at the European Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, told IPS that although the detentions “caused a great outcry…many of the arrested people are intimately related to the DHKP-C, which took responsibility for the bombing of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) headquarters and the Justice Ministry in Ankara on Mar. 11.”

Although Oktem acknowledges that “members of several civil society organisations and student groups have been put into prison, often on flimsy evidence and based on the anti-terrorism law that can be used to charge pretty much any form of dissent as terrorism”, he believes it would be incorrect to characterise the crackdown as being directed solely against dissenting civil voices.

Often it is aimed at apprehending “groups and individuals that maintain relations with real terrorist groups”, he said.