Turkish authorities have continued with plans to help Iran silence critics seeking refuge in the country, with assassinations, arrests, and deportations of Iranian opposition figures continuing unabated.
Now, at-least five Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey are at the edge of deportation to Iran – with at least one facing execution if he gets handed over to the regime authorities.
Among them, four women’s rights activists named Esmail Fattahi, Leili Faraji, Mohammad Poor-Akbari, and Zeynab Sahhafi, were arrested on April 5, 2021 over participating in a protest against Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in the city of Denizli on March 20, 2021. The four were identified by Turkish Police with the help of Iranian Ministry of Intelligence prior to their arrest.
The fifth is Afshin Sohrab-Zadeh Afshin Sohrab-Zadeh, a former Iranian political prisoner who had served seven years out of a 25-year jail term before fleeing to Turkey, was also arrested by Turkish police on April 6 while on bail before being sent to a deportation camp in Kayseri and then to Izmir.
Despite being a UN-registered and recognized political refugee, he, as well as at-least three of the four arrested women’s rights activists, are planned to be deported in the following days. Many of them will be at risk of execution after their deportations to Iran.
Once the nearest safe place for the critics of Iranian Regime to seek refuge, Turkey under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now turned into a dangerous country for fleeing activists.
The improvement in Iran-Turkey political and economic relations after the failed military coup in 2016 brought fresh fear for Iranian opposition activists and journalists living in Turkey as refugees.
The assassination of Iranian opposition figures in Istanbul, and the arrest and deportation of Iranian women’s rights activists and participants of anti-regime protests in Iran across the Turkey continue to represent the ongoing hidden collusion and security cooperation between these two countries.
Assassination of Iranian opposition figures in Turkey
The 2016 Turkish coup attempt represented a turning point for Turkey-Iran relations, tying the two regimes together in mutual collusion against opposition.
The support of Iranian regime for the Turkish government during the failed coup plot, and the subsequent shift in the Turkish foreign policy toward the United States, led to the restoration of Iran-Turkey economic and political ties. As a result, Turkish security organizations reduced the level of protection of some of the top Iranian opposition figures such as journalists, opening the door to Iranian attempts to kidnap or even assassinate several of its top critics in Turkey.
The two best known assassination cases took place on April 29, 2017 and November 14, 2019 and resulted in the deaths of Saeed Karimian, founder, chairman, and owner of GEM TV who had been sentenced to a prison term of six years by the Iranian Islamic Revolution Court in February 2017, and Masoud Molavi Vardanjani a former Iranian defense contractor who was running an anti-regime Telegram News channel named “Black Box”.
Deportation of the Iranian opposition activists
Within the past several months, Turkish security forces have arrested several Iranian dissidents in Turkey including UN-registered asylum seekers.
Among those deported back to Iran include Mohammad Rajabi, 25, and Saeed Tamjidi, 27, two Iranian young men who had fled to Turkey after Iranian security forces went after them due to their participation in the nationwide protests against Iranian regime in November 2019.
Rajabi and Tamjidi were handed over to the regime authorities on December 28 and sent to Tehran’s Evin prison. They together with a third arrested protester named Amir-Hossein Moradi, 25 were later put on trial in Islamic Revolution Court. On accusation of setting a bank on ablaze which they had been tortured to admit during their interrogations, they were sentenced to death and their sentence was confirmed in the appeal court on June 23, 2020.
Last year, following the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Iran-Turkey relations deteriorated over a short period of time in October. The main reason was the Turkish government's military, economic and political support for Azerbaijan during the fighting, while Tehran maintained open borders with Armenia despite requests from Ankara to the contrary.
It became an important factor in the darkening of relations between the two countries for a short time. As a result, Iran-Turkey intelligence cooperation was suspended for some time, and the possibility of the Iranian intelligence officers operating in Turkey became problematic.
Despite the political tensions between Turkish and Iranian governments during and after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the security cooperation between both of the countries continued, with several prominent Iranian human rights and women’s rights activists arrested and sent to deportation camps.
In one case, Mohammad Mosaed, an Iranian opposition journalist who have recently taken political asylum in Turkey, the Turkish government put plans in place for deportation only to cancel them after international condemnation and pressure from human rights organizations and several European governments, the Committee to Protect Journalists previously reported.