Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Turkey‘s intelligence agency has arrested a Turkish-Mexican dual citizen in Cambodia and brought him back to Ankara, state-run media reported, as human rights groups urged Phnom Penh to confirm Osman Karaca’s whereabouts.
The Anadolu news agency, citing anonymous security sources on Saturday, said Karaca was arrested on charges of “founding and masterminding an armed terrorist organisation”.
The agency described Karaca as the “Mexico Imam” of the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a United States-based religious leader Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.
Karaca’s wife, Grace, said her husband was arrested by police in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on October 14. She has not been able to contact him since.
Following the Anadolu report, she said she has to receive confirmation that Karaca had arrived in Turkey.
“My husband is innocent, so they don’t have any case against him,” she said in a phone call from Mexico, promising to “fight back”.
Expressing fears Karaca may be mistreated by Turkish police, she said she was afraid of going back to the country. “I’m afraid of also being arrested, because I’m also a Turkish-Mexican citizen.”
Karaca worked at the Zaman International School in Phnom Penh, now Paragon International School, from 2002 to 2011, becoming the director of the school in his last year. The school was sold and renamed last year after pressure by the Turkish government for alleged links to Gulen, his wife said.
The Turkish government accuses supporters of Gulen of “terrorism”.
Following the failed coup attempt of 2016, Ankara launched a wide-ranging crackdown targeting his supporters and shut down schools linked to his religious movement. Turkish authorities have also sought to extradite Gulen supporters from various countries, including the US, Germany and Brazil.
Grace said although she and her husband had supported Gulen, neither of them had committed any crime. “All we do is work, help students who don’t have money to study.”
She and her husband have taught in schools in various countries, adding that she had been in Mexico at the time of the coup.
Chhay Kimkhoeun, spokesman for Phnom Penh police, declined to comment on the case, while Y Sokny, spokesman for the Cambodian anti-terrorism department, said he “was not aware of this case”.
The Turkish foreign ministry said “we don’t have information on this” and directed questions to its consulate in Phnom Penh, which has yet to respond to questions.
An official at the Mexican embassy in Vietnam, which is responsible for Cambodian affairs, said it was aware of Karaca’s case, but did not elaborate further.
Amnesty International, in a statement released on Friday, called Karaca’s case an enforced disappearance.
“Cambodia has a shameful track record of colluding with other governments to return wanted individuals without due process. The Cambodian authorities must immediately confirm Osman Karaca’s fate and whereabouts, after he was last seen being taken away in a police vehicle,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for Asia Pacific.
“If he is forcibly returned to Turkey, he faces a very real risk of ill-treatment and further human rights abuses. Cambodia has an obligation to protect him from persecution, not collude in his abuse.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, echoed the sentiment.
“Ankara is trying to get Cambodia to essentially kidnap Osman and hand him over, and the Cambodian government is foolish enough to play along,” he said.
“If he is forced back to Turkey, he will likely be tortured, subjected to years of pre-trial detention in horrible conditions, and ultimately convicted on bogus charges in a kangaroo court.”
Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said individuals had to be informed of charges against them, be granted access to a lawyer, and be promptly brought before a judge.
Karaca’s case “presents a clear violation of these principles,” she said.
In recent years, Cambodia and Turkey have pledged to strengthen ties.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a host of agreements on trade last year, and met again on the sidelines of a summit in Tajikistan in June this year.