GENEVA (4 July 2023) – UN human rights experts* are asking Türkiye not to deport over 100 members of a persecuted religious minority who were detained at the Turkish-Bulgarian border last month. They also called on the Government to conduct a proper risk assessment of their situation to prevent any refoulement that may result in serious violations of their rights.
“Under international law, the Government of Türkiye is called to act in line with its obligation not to deport 101 members of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light, who may be at risk of serious human rights violations if they are returned to their countries of origin,” the experts said.
On 24 May 2023, a group of 104 members of the religious minority, including 27 women and 22 children, presented themselves at the Turkish side of the Kapikule border seeking access to asylum in Bulgaria. Turkish Police reportedly blocked them using excessive force, resulting in the injury of at least 30 members of the group, including nine women. Turkish authorities took them into custody at the Edirne police station.
The experts said many reported having been tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by police officers, including beatings, sexual harassment and intentional deprivation of sleep.
The group was then transferred to the Edirne deportation centre and the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a deportation order for 101 individuals.
“Since the inception of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light in 1999, its members have been labelled as heretics and infidels and are often subjected to threats, violence, and illegal detention,” the UN experts said. “They are particularly at risk of detention due to blasphemy laws, in violation of their right to freedom of religion or belief,” they said.
The group is composed of individuals who moved to Türkiye from different Muslim-majority countries having fled due to religious persecution.
The experts said one of the individuals at risk of deportation spent six months in jail in his country of origin, having been accused of crimes such as denigrating Islam and offending the Prophet. Another 15 were recently released on bail after being arrested for belonging to what is considered a ‘deviant sect’ in their country.
“The prohibition of refoulement is absolute and non-derogable under international human rights and refugee law,” the experts said. “States are obliged not to remove any individual from their territory when there are substantial grounds to believe the person could be subjected to serious human rights violations in the State of destination,” the UN experts said.
“Given the risks of human rights violations this group faces as a religious minority, Türkiye is required to make an individual, impartial and independent assessment of the protection needs of each person and the risks they may face if returned to their countries,” the experts said.
The experts: Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila, Working Group on arbitrary detention; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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