RANGOON — Turkish ambassador Kerem Divanlioglu met Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw on Tuesday after Turkish citizen Muhammed Furkan Sokmen was detained in Rangoon International Airport last week and deported back to his home country via Bangkok.
Divanlioglu told the army chief Turkey was “facing terrorism in its undertakings for national defense” and that “outside interferences can work against national security, democratization, and development endeavors,” according to a statement from the defense ministry on Wednesday.
Sokmen, formerly a director of the Horizons International School in Rangoon, was forced to leave the country on May 25 after he and his family were detained at Rangoon International Airport for 24 hours. Human Rights Watch reported that he was flown to Bangkok and then the next day transferred to Istanbul in Turkey, where he is now in custody.
Sokmen told The Irrawaddy that prior to his detention he had read reports online in Turkish that he was involved in illegal activities in Burma, which he said were fabricated.
Since a failed coup in Turkey, the Erdogan government has called for an international crackdown on people suspected of having links to the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. More than 47,000 people have been placed in pre-trial detention since 2016, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Burma’s recent detention and facilitation of the deportation of Furkan Sokmen back to Turkey is extremely concerning,” Richard Weir, a fellow from the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy.
“Mr. Sokmen is now in detention in Turkey facing a criminal investigation. It’s not clear whether Burmese authorities seriously considered any of these very real risks of torture and deprivation of human rights to Mr. Sokmen before potentially committing him to the abyss of Turkish pretrial detention for unknown charges.”
The Turkish ambassador and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing discussed the Burma Army and problems Turkey is facing with national security and democracy. The defense ministry cited Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing as saying “anti-terrorism measures cannot be taken by a single country so cooperation between the two militaries is required in exchanging information.”
Weir said any cooperation between the Burmese and Turkish governments on national security initiatives, including defense and anti-terrorism information sharing, should be preceded by discussions and commitments to protect human rights in all contexts.
“This is especially true for anti-terrorism policies where human rights are often sacrificed at the altar of national security,” he said. “The Burmese military’s record of abuses is long, well-documented, and perseveres without any genuine accountability.”
“Turkey’s record is also far from perfect. Turkey’s president and government are governing the country under a draconian state of emergency in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July 2016. The scale of the crackdown tells the story,” he added. “A stronger military and security alliance between the two must serve to reinforce human rights, not diminish or degrade them.”