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The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs of Bosnia’s Security Ministry has withdrawn four Turks’ residence permits, their lawyer told BIRN – a move that follows a visit in July by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who reportedly asked the Sarajevo authorities for several extraditions.
“We appealed the decisions [by the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs], but the Security Ministry rejected our appeal, so administrative proceedings are now being conducted before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said the Turks’ lawyer, Nedim Ademovic.
“The Bosnian state court has prohibited the Bosnian authorities from enforcing the decisions made by the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina prior to the completion of these court proceedings,” he added.
Media have reported that Erdogan brought a list of people he wanted to be extradited to Turkey by the Bosnian authorities when he visited Sarajevo in July.
Erdogan reportedly believes they are followers of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose movement the Turkish government blames for the failed coup in the country in 2016 and describes as a ‘terrorist group’.
Since the failed coup, the Turkish authorities have detained thousands of suspected ‘Gulenists’ and put pressure on governments abroad to extradite suspects.
The Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, confirmed that Erdogan “had requests” during his visit.
‘Illegal and political’
On July 15, after Erdogan’s visit, lawyers Nedim Ademovic and Senka Nozica said proceedings for the withdrawal of residence permits for seven Turkish citizens were being conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina after Turkey submitted a document declaring their passports invalid.
Ademovic said residence permits for four Turkish citizens were then withdrawn in early September.
He described Erdogan’s request as “illegal and political”.
“Every day we continue to receive informal information indicating that requests for the ‘extradition’ of these Turkish citizens are a part of an economic package between the Republic of Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina – we give you a motorway, you give us political opponents,” he said.
He said no criminal proceedings have been instigated against the four Turks in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Turkey.
“There is no evidence that their passports have been declared void. There is not a single piece of evidence on anything. The Bosnian authorities simply acted upon a request by the Turkish Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina to terminate their residence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Innocent people are being persecuted,” he insisted.
The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs told BIRN that it had been informed by the Turkish embassy in Sarajevo that the Turkish authorities had cancelled the travel documents of a certain number of Turkish citizens.
“The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Turkey – the General Directorate of Security – declared these persons’ passports invalid,” the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs said.
The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs also said that it withdrew the Turks’ residence permits because they did not fulfil the legal requirements for permanent residence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Previously the Service gave these persons a deadline for starting a procedure for obtaining new travel documents, but they failed to submit evidence, within the specified time period, that they had initiated such a procedure or obtained new travel documents,” it said.
It said that it has no information that the Turkish citizens whose temporary residence permits have been withdrawn represent a security threat in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
‘No links to coup plot’
Ademovic said that state court will rule on whether the Bosnian authorities had acted lawfully or not.
“We shall continue to the end in this process and turn to the European Court for Human Rights, if needs be. I am convinced that, unless the mistakes made by the Security Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina are corrected, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be condemned before international courts,” he said.
He pointed out that the four Turks had not been in Turkey during the 2016 coup attempt or had anything to do with it.
He also said there had been no requests for their extradition to Turkey. Even if there had been, Ademovic pointed out, such requests have previously been rejected by the Bosnian authorities.
In its decisions to reject the Turkish requests for extradition, the state court cited the fact that although Ankara classifies Gulen’s movement as terrorist, the European Union and the United Nations do not.
Turkey has also put pressure on other Balkan states, such as Albania and North Macedonia, to extradite alleged Gulenists and shut down schools allegedly linked to the exiled cleric. Kosovo’s deportation of six Turkish citizens alleged to be members of Gulen’s movement caused a major political storm in the country.
Ademovic claimed meanwhile that some Turkish citizens have already left Bosnia and Herzegovina for other countries because of pressures by Ankara on Sarajevo to extradite them.
He described the Bosnian authorities’ stance in the case of the four Turks whose residence permits were withdrawn as hypocritical.
“The Security Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina has disappointed me terribly due to its approach to this problem. And why do I find this case particularly painful? We should remember our innocent Bosnian citizens who other countries persecuted, arrested at borders, detained and unfoundedly prosecuted. In those cases, we all stood up and said it was injustice! Of course it was injustice,” he said.
“The same thing is now happening to Turkish citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina and we are watching it in silence. Moreover, the state is actively supporting it! Isn’t that extremely hypocritical?” he asked.