Amnesty criticizes expulsion of Turkish nationals from Moldova

CHISINAU (Reuters) - The human rights group Amnesty International criticized a decision by the Moldovan authorities on Thursday to detain and expel a group of Turkish citizens, calling it part of a pattern of reprisals against Turkish nationals living abroad.

Moldova’s state security service stated it had expelled seven foreign nationals because they posed a threat to national security, without mentioning their nationality.

An associate of the detainees told reporters he suspected the expulsions had been done at Ankara’s behest. The Turkish authorities have not commented on the case so far.

The detainees were teachers and officials at a network of schools originally set up by the movement of U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, which Turkish authorities hold responsible for a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

Turkey has put pressure on countries to deport people believed to be linked to schools financed by Gulen, whose movement Ankara has declared a terrorist organization.

“We are deeply concerned about the fate of the seven detained Turkish nationals,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in a statement.

“The Moldovan authorities didn’t just violate these individuals’ rights once by deporting them – they put them on a fast-track to further human rights violations such as an unfair trial.”

Another teacher who was detained but later released told reporters: “we do not know exactly what is happening, but we think that this is an order from Turkey.”

One of the lawyers of the detainees, Nick Frumos, said he did not know their whereabouts.

The deputy speaker of the Moldovan parliament publicly questioned the decision to expel the teachers and said he had asked the security service for an explanation.

President Igor Dodon denied Moldovan media reports that expelling citizens at the behest of the Turkish authorities was one of the conditions attached to Ankara donating $10 million to the renovation of the Moldovan presidential building.

The building has been empty since 2009 when demonstrators set fire to it.

Dodon urged the media not to speculate on the expulsions.

“Having received confirmation of the existence of a risk to national security, a decision was made to immediately expel these individuals from the territory of Moldova,” a statement by the security service said.

In March this year, anti-corruption prosecutors detained a director of the school network, known as Orizont, for questioning. He was released and then asked for political asylum in Moldova, which was rejected. He left the country and his current whereabouts are not known to the Moldovan authorities.

Editing by Matthias Williams, William Maclean