Burma Forces Turkish Man to Leave Country Amid Crackdown

By Lawi Weng & Calista Macharrie 26 May 2017

Burma-based Muhammed Furkan Sokmen was forced to leave the country on Thursday evening after he and his family were detained at Rangoon International Airport for 24 hours.

Police detained the Turkish family as they tried to board a flight to Bangkok on Wednesday evening. Mr. Sokmen told The Irrawaddy that authorities informed him that his passport had been canceled and that he would have to return to Turkey.

“I do not want to go back to Turkey. They will definitely put me in jail without any judgment,” he said.

Mr. Sokmen was a director of the Horizons International School in Rangoon, which was investigated for alleged links to Turkey’s opposition movement and temporarily closed and renamed following a licensing complaint.

Since a failed coup in Turkey, the Erdoğan 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.

Richard Weir, a fellow from the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy that the organization’s concerns are that Mr. Sokmen could face “torture, extended pre-trial detention, and a trial that is neither free nor fair” if he is sent back to Turkey.

Mr. Sokmen said men whose affiliation was unknown to him followed him throughout his detention in the airport and once he was on the plane. He added that authorities told him that his flight would stop in Bangkok and then he would continue on to Istanbul. He was issued a temporary passport with four pages that he was told would last one month and only allowed travel to Turkey. He is currently in a transit area in the Bangkok International Airport; his status is in limbo.

“The Burmese government must ensure that it evaluates all cases wherein there are threats and risks to individuals that governments want returned,” said Weir.

“The fate of Mr. Sokmen and his family, including his young daughter, hang in the balance and the risks they face are grave. The Myanmar government should not let itself become complicit in endangering this family and others who face return to governments where their rights are in danger of being violated.”

There is currently no asylum system in Burma and no mechanism by which the UNHCR registers asylum seekers.

Mr. Sokmen’s wife and child remain in Rangoon, where the status of their passports is unclear at this time.

“Now my wife and two-year-old daughter are in Burma. I don’t know what will happen to me or to them,” he added.