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‘Gülen-connected’ school manager loses asylum appeal in Georgia

26 January 2018
Emre Çabuk

The Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld on 26 January the decision to deny asylum to Mustafa Emre Çabuk. The former manager at Tbilisi’s Private Demirel College, which has been linked to Turkish opposition political figure Fethullah Gülen, is being sought by Turkey on terror charges. Rights groups urged the government not to extradite Çabuk to Turkey, where they say he would not receive a fair trial.

Following the ruling, a number of rights groups, including Transparency International — Georgia, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre, called on President Giorgi Margvelashvili to grant Çabuk Georgian citizenship. Georgia’s constitution would prevent him from being extradited to Turkey.

Turkey accuse Çabuk of transfering money to a ‘terrorist organisation’, a charge he denies.

He was detained in Tbilisi on 24 May accused by Turkey of ‘supporting a terrorist organisation’. Tbilisi City Court ordered Çabuk’s provisional detention, and he remains in custody.

The Ministry of Refugees announced on 7 July that his appeal for asylum for him and his family had been turned down. Tbilisi City Court upheld the refusal on 21 November.

‘I have done no harm’

Addressing the Court of Appeals on 22 January, Çabuk said he would be mistreated in Turkey if his appeal for asylum were to be rejected.

‘I’ve been living and working in Georgia as a teacher for 15 years. I have not committed a crime neither in Turkey, nor in Georgia. At the time of the 2016 coup I was in Georgia and learned about it from TV, like everyone else. If they don’t let me stay here and send me to Turkey, I’ll be mistreated there. Everybody who is thought of having a connection with Gülen is badly mistreated in Turkey. I hope the court will make a decision protecting me from all of this. I will reiterate that I love Georgia and neither here nor in Turkey have I done any harm’, Çabuk said in the court hearing on 22 January, Liberali reported.

After the decision was announced, Çabuk’s lawyer Soso Baratashvili told journalists that if the court allows the Ministry of Justice to start extradition procedures against Çabuk, they will appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union to halt proceedings. He said the court’s decision was politically motivated, accusing judges of not considering evidence.

‘We provided more than 600 pages of evidence and additional information on the human rights situation in Turkey’, Baratashvili said.

According to Çabuk’s lawyer, he is accused of ‘helping one of the shareholders [of Demirel College] to sell his shares to US-registered company Metropolitan  Education and Consultation Services’. This American company is not considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey’s government, according to the lawyer. ‘I didn’t know that selling shares was terrorism’, his lawyer continued.

Rally in support of Mustafa Emre Çabuk in Tbilisi on 7 June (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

Çabuk, who has been living in Georgia since 2002, may now face extradition to Turkey. The maximum legal duration of pre-extradition detention in Georgia is 9 months.

In June, a number of local rights groups urged Georgia’s government not to extradite Çabuk, claiming if handed over to Turkey, he faced the possibility of ‘political persecution, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, and will have no access to a fair trial’. The joint statement was signed by eight local rights groups including Transparency International — Georgia, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre.

Georgia’s crackdown on ‘Gülen schools’

Fethullah Gülen (YouTube)

In August, Georgia’s Ministry of Education shut down the school Çabuk had worked at, the Private Demirel College in Tbilisi. They accused the school of a number of irregularities surrounding examinations and enrollment.

Turkey has made efforts to shut down a number of schools associated with Fethullah Gülen globally. Gülen, a former Islamic Cleric and a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is accused by Turkey of plotting the July 2016 coup.

The Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) is how Turkish authorities have named the movement, FETO is considered a terrorist group only by Turkey. Demirel has denied any connection to Gülen or his organisation.

Şahin lyceum School in Batumi had its license revoked by Georgia’s Ministry of Education in early 2017 after the Turkish Consul in Batumi claimed the school ‘raises terrorists’.

The private International Black Sea University in Tbilisi is also reportedly associated with the Gülen movement.