In Pak­istan,

Rights groups point to in­tel­li­gence agen­cies after fam­ily is taken

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - Con­sta­ble re­ported from Islamabad. Jen­nifer Amur in Washington contributed to this re­port. BY HAQ NAWAZ KHAN AND PAMELA CON­STA­BLE

the dis­ap­pear­ance of a Turk­ish school of­fi­cial and his fam­ily has hu­man rights groups point­ing fin­gers at state in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

pe­shawar, pak­istan — A com­mo­tion in the down­stairs unit of a house shared by school­teach­ers from Turkey woke the neigh­bors. A Turk­ish school of­fi­cial and his fam­ily were be­ing taken away in the night.

Me­sut Kac­maz, his wife and two daugh­ters were re­strained, blind­folded and hus­tled into un­marked pickup trucks in La­hore last month by more than a dozen plain­clothes se­cu­rity agents, ac­cord­ing to Fatih Avci, a neigh­bor and fel­low teacher. When he tried to in­ter­vene, Avci said, he was also hand­cuffed and hooded, and trans­ported to a se­cret fa­cil­ity.

“The po­lice of­fi­cers were push­ing and shov­ing to ar­rest them,” Avci said in a state­ment after he was held for sev­eral days and re­leased. “I saw . . . Mr. Me­sut’s wife ly­ing on the floor and two lady con­sta­bles pulling her to get on her feet. Their two teenage daugh­ters were weep­ing loudly.”

Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties have not ac­knowl­edged de­tain­ing the group or hold­ing the Kac­maz fam­ily mem­bers, who have not been seen since Sept. 27. Turk­ish ed­u­ca­tors and Pak­istani hu­man rights groups have al­leged that they were ab­ducted by mem­bers of the state in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and have filed court pe­ti­tions seek­ing their re­cov­ery.

On Tues­day, the La­hore High Court or­dered the In­te­rior Min­istry to seek a re­ply from those agen­cies as to whether the fam­ily is in their cus­tody. It also or­dered the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for other Turk­ish ed­u­ca­tors and halt their de­por­ta­tions. Po­lice of­fi­cials told the court they had no in­for­ma­tion about the fam­ily.

The court ac­tion came at a mo­ment of es­ca­lat­ing diplo­matic ten­sion be­tween the United States and the gov­ern­ment of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan that has ties to the teacher is­sue. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Sun­day sus­pended the is­suance of non-im­mi­grant visas in Turkey after the ar­rest of an em­ployee of the U.S. Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul; the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment re­sponded soon after with the same re­stric­tions.

Kac­maz, like Avci and dozens of other Turk­ish na­tion­als, was an ed­u­ca­tor at a chain of 28 PakTurk Foun­da­tion schools across Pak­istan that were shut down last year at the re­quest of the Er­do­gan gov­ern­ment. Since then, the teach­ers have re­mained in Pak­istan un­der tem­po­rary court or­ders and U.N. pro­tec­tion. About 11,000 Pak­istani stu­dents at­tended the schools, con­sid­ered among the best in Pak­istan.

They are also a pro­ject of the Gu­lenist move­ment, led by Turk­ish Mus­lim scholar Fethul­lah Gulen, who lives in Penn­syl­va­nia. Er­do­gan, a close ally of Pak­istan, ac­cused Gulen and his fol­low­ers in Turkey of pro­vok­ing an at­tempted coup in July 2016. He then car­ried out a broad crack­down on Gu­lenists and other dis­si­dents and asked Pak­istan to de­port the teach­ers.

Shortly after Er­do­gan vis­ited Pak­istan in Novem­ber, the gov­ern­ment in Islamabad de­ported some teach­ers and can­celed oth­ers’ visas, but school of­fi­cials ap­pealed to the courts and sought asy­lum through the U.N. refugee agency.

The teach­ers, un­der U.N. pro­tec­tion while await­ing asy­lum rul­ings, as­sert that if forced to go home, they are likely to face ar­rest and abuse at gov­ern­ment hands.

“If we re­turn to Turkey, we will be de­tained on ar­rival,” said Serdal Arslan, the for­mer prin­ci­pal of a PakTurk school in Pe­shawar who is now job­less and un­wel­come in Turkey and Pak­istan. “The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment will not re­new my chil­dren’s travel doc­u­ments, and Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties are ask­ing us to leave. What hap­pened to Me­sut can hap­pen to any of us.”

Kac­maz had been an out­spo­ken critic of the Er­do­gan gov­ern­ment on so­cial me­dia, peo­ple in the Turk­ish im­mi­grant com­mu­nity said, and is a direc­tor with the pri­vate Rumi Fo­rum in Pak­istan.

Pak­istani For­eign Min­is­ter Khawaja Asif, asked dur­ing a re­cent visit to Washington about the al­leged ab­duc­tions and the treat­ment of the Turk­ish teach­ers, said that he had no in­for­ma­tion about the Kac­maz case but that the teach­ers would be de­ported after de­lays granted by Pak­istani courts and U.N. of­fi­cials ex­pire.

“You’d do the same thing in Amer­ica after some­one’s visa ex­pires. You de­port them,” he said in a meet­ing with jour­nal­ists at the Pak­istan Em­bassy. “This is some­thing which is in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted. That is the only rea­son,” Asif added. “Oth­er­wise, why would we do . . . such a hor­ren­dous thing, the kid­nap­ping of a fam­ily?”

Arslan said that of about 110 Turk­ish teacher fam­i­lies, 40 have left Pak­istan for other coun­tries and 70 have re­mained in hopes of ob­tain­ing asy­lum. Most are shar­ing houses or apart­ments and rarely go out, he said.

Pak­istan’s al­liance with the in­creas­ingly re­pres­sive Er­do­gan gov­ern­ment has put it at odds with many West­ern coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States.

Er­do­gan’s sus­pen­sion of U.S. vis­i­tor visas came after an em­ployee of the U.S. Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul was ar­rested for al­leged links to the Gu­lenist move­ment. The abrupt ac­tion cre­ated chaos and con­fu­sion in diplo­matic, travel and busi­ness cir­cles. Turkey has pre­vi­ously wel­comed West­ern visitors and in­vestors, and its econ­omy has re­lied heav­ily on for­eign tourism.

After the Kac­maz fam­ily dis­ap­peared, protests and news con­fer­ences were held by rights groups in Pak­istan de­nounc­ing the ab­duc­tions. The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan charged that more than 20 armed peo­ple in plain clothes had taken the fam­ily, and it asked the gov­ern­ment to im­me­di­ately re­lease them.

Pak­istani par­ents of for­mer stu­dents at the PakTurk schools also protested, say­ing Pak­istan’s mis­treat­ment of the teach­ers would fur­ther iso­late Pak­istan in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“The po­lice are ex­press­ing ig­no­rance about the pick­ing up of Mr. Me­sut, so who did this?” asked Muhammed Zubair, a doc­tor whose chil­dren at­tended the PakTurk school in Pe­shawar and who rep­re­sents the par­en­tteacher as­so­ci­a­tion. “This is a dan­ger­ous trend and will send a neg­a­tive image of Pak­istan abroad.”

“What hap­pened to Me­sut can hap­pen to any of us.” Serdal Arslan, the for­mer prin­ci­pal of a PakTurk school in Pe­shawar, on the dis­ap­pear­ance of Turk­ish school of­fi­cial Me­sut Kac­maz, his wife and two daugh­ters


Pak­istani stu­dents at a PakTurk In­ter­na­tional school in La­hore com­fort a Turk­ish teacher fac­ing de­por­ta­tion last Novem­ber.

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