Students of Mehmet Akif College in Kosovo protest the arrest and deportation of their teachers in Kosovo's capital Pristina on Thursday, March 29, 2018. Kosovo police arrested five Turks working with a group of schools said to be owned by cleric Fethullah Gulen, who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for an attempted coup two years ago. Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, used a private plane to take those arrested back to Turkey. They have been handed over to the judiciary. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Kosovo ex-Intelligence Chief Sentenced Over ‘Gulenists’’ Deportation to Turkey

Driton Gashi's lawyer says he will appeal his jail sentence for the controversial deportation of six Turkish nationals in March 2018 - an operation which Human Right Watch deemed a 'travesty' of justice.

Driton Gashi, former head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, KIA, has been sentenced to four years and eight months in prison after Pristina Basic Court found him guilty of the controversial deportation of six Turkish alleged “Gulenists” in March 2018.

Judge Violeta Namani said Gashi had been found guilty of abuse of office. Besides the jail sentence, he is banned from exercising any public duty for four years after serving his sentence.

Two other defendants, the ex-director of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry, Valon Krasniqi, and the ex-head of the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners in the Border Police, Rrahman Sylejmani, were acquitted because the court could not prove the charges.

Gashi’s lawyer, Florent Latifaj, told BIRN that he will appeal. “We are not satisfied with this verdict. Of course, we will appeal it. It is completely unjust. We expected his acquittal,” Latifaj said.

In February 2021, Kosovo’s Special Prosecution accused Gashi and Krasniqi of “abuse of official position or authority”. Sylejmani was accused of “abuse of official position or authority” and “illegal deprivation of liberty.”

Gashi was dismissed from his post following the extradition of the six Turkish citizens in March 2018 alleged by Turkey to be followers of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen who the Turkish government accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

The then prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, claimed the incident had happened without his knowledge.

A report published by a Kosovo parliamentary commission in February 2019 found that 31 breaches of laws and procedures took place during the deportation. Members of the parliamentary commission accused former president Hashim Thaci of being behind the incident.

A number of the group extradited to Turkey have since been handed heavy prison sentences for being members of an “armed terrorist group” owing to their links with Gulen’s movement, which Ankara refers to as the ‘Fethullah Terror Organisation’, FETO, and blames for a failed coup in 2016.

In January 2020, an Istanbul court sentenced one of the six, Hasan Hyesin Gunakan, to eight years and one month in prison.

The report by Kosovo’s parliamentary commission specifically cited Gunakan’s deportation as unlawful, stating that it violated the Kosovo constitution, administrative instructions and key principles of international human rights law.

Five of those arrested worked at “Gulenist” educational institutions in Kosovo, including the Mehmet Akif high school and elementary schools in Prizren and Gjakova.

After the operation, the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, HRW, deemed the arrest and deportation a callous disregard of human rights and the rule of law.

“In addition to the questionable arrests, the men were sent to a country where they face a serious risk of torture. The Kosovo President, Prime Minister and speaker of parliament, who claim no knowledge of the operation, should demand a thorough investigation and explain how this travesty took place,” HRW said.

According to sources speaking to BIRN, the six are serving their prison sentences in different Turkish cities and have very little or no contact with their families.

19 July 2023 - 17:23

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.