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Tbilisi Court upholds asylum refusal of ‘Gülen school manager’ Çabuk

21 November 2017

Tbilisi City Court has upheld the Ministry of Refugees’ decision to refuse asylum to Mustafa Emre Çabuk, a manager at Tbilisi’s Private Demirel College being sought by Turkey on terror charges. The school, closed down by Georgian authorities in August, has been linked to Turkish opposition figure Fethullah Gülen.

The court announced the decision on 21 November. Çabuk has insisted his innocence, claiming he has never been in touch with any terrorist organisation, or transferred any money to them, as Turkey has accused him.

Çabuk’s lawyer Soso Baratashvili denounced the decision outside the court, insisting the ministry failed to prove their decision was just, but that the court ruled in their favour anyway. He said they planned to appeal the decision.

Çabuk and his family applied to the ministry for political asylum in June, but his lawyer was informed on 7 July that they had turned down Çabuk, a father of two.

Çabuk 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.

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.

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’

In August, Georgia’s Ministry of Education revoked the teaching authorisation of the Private Demirel College, effectively shutting the school down. 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 is 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.