KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian police said Friday they have deported three Turkish men suspected of links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of being behind a failed coup attempt in Turkey last year.
Human Rights Watch slammed the decision, saying the men face possible torture and prolonged pre-trial detention.
National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the three men were sent to Ankara on Thursday after being found to be involved with an alleged terrorist organization headed by Gulen. He said the men also were illegal immigrants because Turkey had canceled their passports.
School principal Turgay Karaman and businessman Ihsan Aslan went missing May 2 and were initially feared to have been abducted before police said they had been detained without trial for being a threat to national security. Two days later, academic Ismet Ozcelik was held. Police initially said all three men were believed to be linked to the Islamic State group.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, chided the government for using claims of alleged links to the Islamic State group to detain the three without trial. He said the deportation of Ozcelik, who had person of concern status with the U.N. refugee agency in Kuala Lumpur, was a violation of international human rights.
"Malaysian government's duplicity and crass abuse of the rights of these three men really sets this case apart," Robertson said in a statement. "Done in the middle of the night, with no notification to their families, Malaysia sent these three men to face a possible risk of torture and prolonged pre-trial detention, followed by a court trial that will likely fail to meet fair trial standards."
The men have lived in Malaysia for years, and their families pleaded with authorities not to deport them.
Turkey accuses Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, of masterminding a failed coup attempt by renegade military officers last July 15. It has designated his movement, which runs charities, schools and businesses across the world, as a terrorist organization and has launched a widespread crackdown on suspected members.
Gulen has denied involvement or prior knowledge of the alleged coup attempt.