Pupils lead protests, as political crisis deepens.
Students, alumni and teachers from the Mehmet Akif schools in Kosovo have been protesting in the center of Prishtina for the second consecutive day following the arrest and deportation of six Turkish nationals yesterday (Thursday, March 29). Five of those deported are teachers at the schools, while the sixth is a doctor in a private clinic.
Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs cited “national security” for the deportations and issued a press release following the arrests saying that the individuals had had their Kosovo residence permits “revoked” in light of “sufficient legal grounds.”
“After issuing the decision to revoke the residence permit, Kosovo Police has been notified as the competent body for the execution of these decisions,” continued the statement. “After the revocation of the residence permit, the further residence of these citizens is considered illegal.”
However, Kosovo’s prime minister, foreign minister, president and president of the Kosovo Assembly have subsequently all stated that they had no knowledge of the action in advance; the governing coalition parties now appear to be in crisis mode over the incident and how to handle its fallout. The minister of internal affairs, Flamur Sefaj, has been asked to resign, while the director of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, Driton Gashi, has been sacked for the role of his agency in the deportations.
The arrests and deportations have also led to a storm of public backlash, with criticism of the action, and apparent human rights violation, having been condemned by politicians, human rights groups and citizens.
Around 200 people were involved in today’s protest, which for the second day in a row were led by pupils and alumni of Mehmet Akif. Holding banners in English, Albanian and Turkish and shouting coordinated messages including “Our teachers aren’t terrorists!” and “Freedom!” en masse, the urgency and anger was perceptibly greater than in yesterday’s protest.
With Kosovo’s government institutions appearing uncoordinated on the actions, information about the deportations has been sporadic and family members of the six deported men have said that they were not informed. Earlier today, family members stated that they believed their loved ones were being held in the Turkish Embassy or at Prishtina Airport. They subsequently met with government representatives and were informed that the six had already been deported to Turkey.
Meanwhile Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has issued a statement declaring the deported individuals as members of FETÖ, which has educational establishments around the world and is led by exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen. Turkey has considered FETÖ a “terrorist organization” since 2015 and blames it for 2016’s failed coup attempt, which has led to a huge clampdown on civil liberties in the country.
“Lately our National Intelligence Agency in cooperation with the Intelligence of Kosovo captured six members of FETÖ in the Balkans, who were brought to police authorities,” Erdoğan said in his statement. “We said that they will try to escape, while we will hunt and bring them with the permission of God wherever they will be.”