KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has deported three Turks to Ankara over their suspected involvement in a group linked to a U.S.-based cleric blamed by the Turkish government for an attempted coup last year, police said on Friday.
Authorities detained school principal Turgay Karaman, 43, businessman Ihsan Aslan, 39, and academic Ismet Ozcelik, 58, last week, saying they posed a threat to national security.
The detentions came amid concerns raised by rights groups that the men were being held in Malaysia due to pressure from Turkey. At the time, authorities did not say whether they were suspected of having ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said the three were deported on Thursday on suspicion of being involved in FETO, a group of Gulen supporters that the Turkish government also calls the "Gulenist Terrorist Organization".
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of orchestrating last July's failed coup, a claim Gulen and his followers deny.
The Malaysian police investigation found that the three men had been involved in FETO activities and were listed as individuals wanted by Turkish authorities, Khalid said.
The Turkish government had also canceled their travel documents, he said.
"As such, their presence in Malaysia is invalid and their status declared as illegal immigrants," Khalid said.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia had previously urged Malaysia not to deport the Turks over fears the men could face torture or an unfair trial in Turkey.
Ayse Karaman, the wife of Turgay Karaman, had also appealed to Malaysia for her husband to be deported to another country apart from Turkey.
Rosli Dahlan, a lawyer for Karaman and Ismet Ozcelik, told Reuters the men's families had not been informed of their deportation ahead of time.
He also questioned Malaysia's decision to deport Ozcelik, who he said had documents from the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR recognizing him as an asylum seeker.
HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement Ozcelik's deportation was "a clear violation of international human rights law".
Turkish authorities have arrested 49,000 people in relation to the failed coup out of 150,000 investigated. About 145,000 civil servants, security personnel and academics have also been suspended or sacked.
Turkey has also applied pressure on other countries that are home to institutions backed by Gulen, whose Hizmet movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments worldwide.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie)