At least 65 Turks have applied for political asylum in Bosnia and Herzegovina to date, while, on the other hand, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Sarajevo hand over a group of Turkish citizens whom he considers to be close to the Feto organisation, according to reports of local media outlets.
Bosnia's Assistant Security Minister Marjan Baotic told the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz on Saturday that so far in 2019, as many as 43 Turkish citizens have requested political asylum status, and in 2018, there were 22 applications of that kind.
The applicants say in their request that they are afraid of politically motivated persecution in their homeland because they belong to a social group that has a critical attitude towards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.
During a recent summit meeting of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Sarajevo, President Erdogan demanded the handover from Bosnia to Turkey of a group of Turkish citizens perceived as being close to the Feto organisation, which is seen by the Turkish authorities as a terrorist organisation responsible for a failed coup in 2016.
Bosnian media interpreted this demand as a sort of payment for Turkey's political and financial support to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The BHT 1 public television channel said that Turkey was looking for ten of its citizens with ties to the movement led by Imam Fetullah Gulen, whom Erdogan considers his mortal enemy.
The State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has earlier dismissed requests for their extradition on the grounds that Feto is not included in a verified list of terrorist organisations and that membership of this organisation cannot be treated as a criminal offence under international standards.
On Friday, Turkish Ambassador in Sarajevo, Haludin Koc, told a news conference that Turkey in cooperation with Bosnia's authorities were working on closing local educational institutions believed to be close to “parallel state structure” led by Gulen (also known as FETO/PSS).
He also said that the authorities were working on extradition of people whom he labelled as members of the terrorist organisation.
Local intellectuals call on Bosnia authorities not to yield to pressure from Ankara
A group of some 50 Bosnia and Herzegovina's intellectuals and professors have recently urged Bosnia's authorities not to cave in under Erdogan's pressure and not to allow the extradition of those persons.
In this context, they point out the case of math professor Ali Lafcioglu whose students in the “Bosna Sema” network of schools have to date won a series of awards in international mathematics competitions.
They say in an open letter that Bosnia and Herzegovina is obliged to respect the rights and freedoms of professor Lafcioglu and other persons whose extradition is demanded by Ankara.
We request that our judicial authorities should not yield to the pressure from abroad and that they comply with the laws of their country and provide those people with safety and security, the signatories of the open letter said.
Fight against Gulen's network abroad is Turkey's priority
After the “parallel state structure” led by Gulen was busted in Turkey, Ankara's priority is now to fight against elements of that organisation (also known as FETO/PSS) outside the country, Turkish Ambassador to Croatia, Mustafa Babur Hizlan said at a news conference which he held in Zagreb on Friday on the occasion of the third anniversary of the failed coup in Turkey.
The Turkish authorities hold Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar, preacher, and political figure, who founded the Gulen movement (known as Hizmet meaning service in Turkish), responsible for those developments in Turkey in mid-July 2016. Gulen, who moved to the USA in 1999, has dismissed the accusations and condemned the coup in the strongest terms. He was quoted by foreign media as saying that the “government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.”
Ambassador Hizlan said in Zagreb on Friday that Turkey would like to emphasise the existence of security risks in other countries where that terrorist organisation is active, and in that context, he said that apart from Ankara, North Cyprus and Pakistan have also declared FETO a terrorist organisation.
He went on to say that now that it is weakened that organisation is investing efforts in lobbying for itself, by disseminating misinformation and fake news about injustice so as to strengthen its cooperation with those disinclined towards Turkey.