Pakistan expels Turkish school staff over Gulen links

Management wants Islamabad High Court to overturn interior ministry’s decision that affects staff and their families.

pakturk school pakistan
PakTurk has denied any affiliation with Gulen or his Hizmet movement [PakTurk]

Pakistan has ordered Turkish teachers at schools with alleged links to a Turkish religious leader opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to leave the country by November 20.

However, management of the school chain approached the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday with a hearing set to take place on Thursday, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported.

PakTurk International Schools and Colleges has more than 20 branches across the country and educates more than 10,000 students. It denies any affiliation with Fethullah Gulen or his Hizmet network.

The teachers and their families, totalling about 450 people, were given the notice to leave, PakTurk International Schools and Colleges said in a statement late on Tuesday.

A senior interior ministry official said visas of the educational chain’s staff had been cancelled and staff were issued letters on Sunday, informing them they had one week to leave the country, according to Dawn.

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“PakTurk International Schools and Colleges are deeply concerned over the abrupt decision of the government requiring the Turkish teachers, management and their family members … to leave the country within three days,” the school said in the statement.

“We do unequivocally clarify that the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan have no affiliation or connection with any political individual or any movement or organisation, whether political, religious or denominational, nor do we have a financial relationship with any movement.”

It said the staff were asked to leave because of “non-approval of their requests for extension of visa”.

The Pakistan government’s move came in advance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-day visit of Pakistan.

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Erdogan has accused Gulen, a former political ally, of being behind a coup attempt in July, and Turkey has previously asked Pakistan to shut down any groups in the country that have links to Gulen.

Before his departure from Ankara, Erdogan praised Pakistan’s actions against what his government calls the Gulenist Terror Organisation (FETO).

“Pakistan’s decision to have people linked to FETO leave the country by November 20 is very pleasing,” Erdogan said.

“Just like Turkey, Pakistan is carrying out a relentless fight against terror. Turkey supports Pakistan’s battle until the end.”

Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, preaches Sunni Islam together with a message of interfaith dialogue. 

He denies any involvement in the failed coup in which more than 230 people were killed.

Turkey has appealed to other countries that are home to Gulen-backed institutions.

Gulen’s Hizmet movement runs about 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries.

In August, PakTurk management removed Turkish principals of all their schools and colleges and also dissolved the board of directors which had representation from Turkish nationals, according to a Dawn report.

But PakTurk said its schools would continue operating across the country and told students and their family members that it was opposed to “ingress of some other organisation into the teachers and staff of the schools”. 

Gulen's Hizmet movement runs about 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries [Charles Mostoller/Reuters]
Gulen’s Hizmet movement runs about 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries [Charles Mostoller/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies