After her husband was illegally deported in a covert operation staged by the Moldovan and Turkish intelligence services, a Turkish mother with three children became so frightened by continuing surveillance that she fled the country.
By Madalin Necsutu*
“We felt very unsafe, they were always following us,” said Sevgi Celebi, remembering the uneasy days after her husband Mujdat was seized from the streets of the Moldovan capital Chisinau while he was out with his daughter.
The secret service agents who grabbed Mujdat Celebi on the morning of September 6, 2018 then drove him to Chisinau airport and put him on a plane to Turkey.
He was deported to face trial in his home country even though he had a pending request for political asylum lodged with the authorities in Moldova, where the law does not permit any such rendition until an asylum plea is addressed.
Sevgi Celebi said she was put under surveillance in the wake of her husband’s forcible deportation. She and her children could not sleep at night and felt they were being followed whenever they left the house.
Soon the pressure became too much for her to bear, and she decided to pack her bags and get the children out of the country quickly. “After 18 days, we left Moldova and went to America – Dallas,” she said.
Mujdat Celebi was one of seven Turkish professors who were kidnapped in a joint operation by the Moldovan and Turkish secret services and illegally deported to Turkey on the same day in September 2018.
All of them were accused of financing terrorism and having links to the movement led by the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, which is considered by the Ankara authorities to be a terrorist organisation responsible for an attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has exerted diplomatic pressure on countries around the world to extradite alleged ‘Gulenists’ so they can be put on trial for subversion.
After being deported from Moldova, Mujdat Celebi was sentenced to nine years behind bars by a Turkish court in March 2019.
Moldovan security service chief put on trial
Celebi had lived in Moldova for more than five years before he was deported. He taught at the Durlesti branch of the private high-school chain Orizont, where he also worked as the financial director.
The family had hoped to “live in Moldova forever; it didn’t matter if it was a poor and small country”, his wife Sevgi told BIRN by email. “All of us, we learned Romanian or were trying to learn… We wanted to continue living there.”
They didn’t live in the US for long, and have now resettled in Canada.
“It’s so hard to move with three children to a new place without my husband, trying to learn English more, move to a new house, a new life, a new place. It was very hard and I feel very sad about it,” she explained.
She said that after the deportation, her daughter couldn’t sleep alone and had to take sedatives.
“She is 13 years old but has a lot of white hair because of the stress she endured,” she said.
Talking about the nine-year sentence that her husband was given in Turkey, she said that the family hopes that his appeal to a Turkish court will be successful, or that he will be released after serving five or six years.
On February 5, the head of the Moldovan Prosecutor General’s Office, Alexandru Stoianoglo, apologised to the seven Turkish teachers who were expelled from Moldova in 2018.
Stoianoglo sent a message in Turkish to their families, saying that the man responsible was the former director of the Moldovan Information and Security Service, Vasile Botnari. Botnari went on trial last month for exceeding his authority by staging the deportations.
In June 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Chisinau violated the teachers’ rights by deporting them to Turkey. The ECHR ordered the Moldovan government to pay 25,000 euros each to five of the Turkish citizens who took their cases to the Strasbourg court.
The ECHR’s judges noted that in the applications for asylum that the teachers filed in Moldova before their arrests, they clearly expressed their fear of being politically persecuted in Turkey.
Sevgi Celebi believes that the former director of the Moldovan Information and Security Service, the Turkish ambassador to Chisinau and the Turkish intelligence service are all guilty over what happened.
Nowadays, she and her three children feel safe in their adoptive country, Canada, and she said she hopes her husband will join them as soon as possible.
She said that she feels she cannot go back to Turkey because she believes that she could also be arrested.
“I can’t go and visit my husband because they will take me too. I miss him a lot and I need him so much in my life,” she said.
She also expressed affection for Moldova, despite what the country’s secret service did to her family.
“I am excited when I hear people speaking Romanian here [in Canada],” she said. “I would like to visit Moldova again when it is safe, because I really loved that country.”