How Turkish-Mexican dual citizen ‘arrested’ in Cambodia

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Human rights groups have urged Cambodia to confirm the whereabouts of a Turkish-Mexican national who, his wife said, had been arrested by police in Phnom Penh, allegedly at the request of the Turkish authorities.

The appeals on Friday came after Grace Lalrinmawii Karaca said she had not been able to reach her husband, Osman Karaca, since October 14. He was last seen being taken into a police car in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, she told Al Jazeera.

“I was in shock when I first heard the news,” she said in a phone call from Mexico. “I couldn’t even cry. My whole body hurt. I felt dizzy.”

Karaca worked at the Zaman International School in Phnom Penh, now Paragon International School, from 2002 to 2011, becoming director of the school in his last year. His wife said the school was sold last year after pressure by the Turkish government for alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

A report by state-run news agency Anadolu, quoting an unnamed official, said on Saturday that Karaca has been deported to Turkey. Al Jazeera, however, could not independently confirm the veracity of the report.

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Al Jazeera reached out to several officials in Cambodia but failed to receive any response at the time of the publication of this article.

Police spokesman Chhay Kimkhoeun, based in Phnom Penh, declined to comment, while the Cambodian anti-terrorism department spokesman Y Sokny told Al Jazeera that “he was not aware of this case”.

The Turkish foreign affairs ministry in Ankara told Al Jazeera that “we don’t have information on this” and directed questions to the consulate in Phnom Penh, which was yet to respond to the queries.

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 answer further questions.

Amnesty International called Karaca’s case an enforced disappearance in a statement.

“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 the 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 the 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.”

The Turkish government accuses supporters of Gulen of “terrorism”. Following the failed coup attempt of 2016, c launched a wide-ranging crackdown targeting his supporters and shut down schools linked to his religious movement.

Turkish authorities have sought to extradite Gulen supporters from various countries, including the United States, Germany and Brazil.

Grace Karaca said although she and her husband had supported Gulen, neither of them had committed any crime.

“My husband is innocent, so they don’t have any case against him. He hasn’t committed any crime,” she said. “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. She said that she had been in Mexico at the time of the coup.

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.

“The fact that  Karaca’s  whereabouts are still unknown 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.

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