BISHKEK/Dec. 30 2019 (The Bulletin) — A district court in Bishkek shunned Turkey by refusing to sanction the extradition of two Turkish teachers suspected of being so-called Gulenists.
The court said that the extradition of the teachers, approved earlier by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prosecutor general, was illegal.
Rights activists have said that so-called Gulenists who have been extradited from countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus have been tortured in Turkey and don’t get fair trials. The Turkish government blames Gulenists for a failed coup in 2016 and has promised revenge.
The press secretary of the Pervomaisky District Court, Asel Ravshanbekova, didn’t give the Kyrgyz branch of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty any reasons for the court to overturn the deputy prosecutor’s extradition approval other than to say that it was considered “illegal”.
Even so, the court’s decision is a sharp and rare blow to Turkey’s status in the Central Asia and South Caucasus region. With the exception of Kazakhstan and Armenia, the other countries in the region have been quick to round up Turkish teachers working at schools and universities regarded as Gulenists. These were educational institutions set up in the 1990s by followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who was once an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but now lives in exile in the United States.
These Gulen-linked schools were considered to be the best schools and universities in each country in the region, producing government ministers and business leaders.
In 2017, Turkey as much as told Kyrgyzstan that it needed to close down the Gulen school network known as Sebat. Kyrgyzstan refused but did rebrand the schools as Zepat. These fee-paying schools still educate many sons and daughters of the elite.
Kyrgyzstan-Turkey relations have improved since Sooronbai Jeenbekov took over as president in 2017 but the strain over the fate of the Gulen schools and their teachers has damaged some of the goodwill.
Mr Jeenbekov took over as president from Almazbek Atambayev, who had pushed a foreign policy that, while not anti-Turkey, was definitely cool towards its traditional ally.
— This story was first published in issue 433 of the weekly Bulletin on Jan. 13 2020
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