Central Asian migrants caught in Turkey's anti-terror raids

The last time Anurkhol Bipolotov saw her husband, Fakhriddin, was across a street, outside a police station in Istanbul, on March 9.

"He couldn't speak, and I asked to speak with him, but they shouted, 'You cannot speak.' Then they sent him to Uzbekistan," she recalled. "Now I have no idea where he is."


That night, Turkish counter-terrorism police conducted 10 simultaneous raids across Istanbul, based on an anonymous tip placed to a hotline set up to report suspicious activity. Sixty-nine people, all but two foreigners, were taken into custody, suspected of being Islamic State members. Among them were 17 women and 29 children, including Bipolotov and her three children. None were ever charged with a terrorism-related crime.

In a single week this month, Turkish police carried out more than 1,400 raids across the country, detaining more than 1,167 people suspected of belonging to terrorist groups, and an additional 6,890 for being in the country illegally.

Dozens of police cars, including an armored truck, were in the street, and 20 officers wearing balaclavas, weapons drawn, streamed into the apartment.

"In the past, because of the legal culture in Western countries, we did not have such problems with requests for the extradition of dissidents. But now, the government is changing their political views, and has started to work with China, Russia and other countries," said Ibrahim Ergin, a lawyer with the International Refugee Rights Assn.

This month, authorities deported Zafarshon Alikhanov, a Tajik dissident who had lived for five years in Turkey, back to Tajikistan, despite an appeal lawyers had lodged in Turkey's Constitutional Court arguing that he was at risk of torture or execution back home.

"Under the [state of emergency], especially, police are deporting you basically by themselves, they don't go before a judge or anything, and no one knows what is happening until it is too late," said Adem Cevik, who heads an organization in Turkey that helps Central Asian migrants settle. "Turkey is deporting them back home and when they get there they are automatically treated as terrorists. There is no evidence, but they say, 'Look, Turkey deported you, so this is evidence you are a terrorist.'"

Prosecutors are seeking 40 consecutive life sentences for an Uzbekistan national, Abdulkadir Masharipov, accused of killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Eve. Masharipov, prosecutors say, had spent time training with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then with Islamic State in Syria.