Our three-month ordeal in Turkey’s maximum prison -Nigerian students detained over coup saga
Sent to Turkey for university education by parents who wanted the best for them, two young Nigerians recall the horror of being bundled into Silivri Maximum Security Prison where they joined Turkish military personnel, civil servants, professionals and other suspects detained over alleged involvement in Turkey’s July 15 military coup.
They are among scores of Nigerian students who came home without being allowed to collect their graduation certificates, academic transcripts, electronics and other items which the Turkish authorities said they would return only after the completion of investigation early next year. They spoke with Assistant Editor, JIDE BABALOLA, in Abuja.
It was almost four months since Mohammed Abdullahi and Hassan Danjuma Adamu were detained by security agencies in Turkey in the wake of a military coup that rattled the country in July this year, but they still appeared somewhat dazed by the experience.
The two Nigerian students were picked up from their hostels and detained for three months in Turkey’s maximum prison over their alleged involvement in the aborted military coup of July 15, 2016. Although they are happy to be home, the two young men, who grew up in homes where moral and religious instructions predominate, are still enmeshed in confusion.
They had travelled to far away Turkey dreaming to complete their education, after which they will undergo the compulsory one-year national youth service and begin earning a decent living and making their families proud. On the contrary, however, they found themselves in handcuffs, dumped at Silivri Maximum Security Prison.
In the aftermath of the July coup, the Turkish government had launched a crackdown that led to the imposition of an emergency rule, which in turn hardened the climate of official impunity. While the Turkish Justice Minister, Bekir Bozdag, has fiercely denied widespread allegations of abuse of detainees amid mounting criticism from Western governments and international rights groups, the European Commission’s annual progress report concerning Turkey’s increasingly unlikely membership in the European Union (EU) alleges unjust treatment of randomly detained persons.
“There were reports of serious human rights violations, including alleged widespread ill treatment and torture of detainees. The crackdown has continued since and has been broadened to pro-Kurdish and other opposition voices,” the commission alleged. New York-based Human Rights Watch’s most recent report basically agrees with EU’s observations, citing at least 13 credible cases of torture since the attempted coup. And the Turkish press is scarcely documenting the alarming spike in allegations of ill-treatment, as most critical outlets have been shut and many critical journalists locked up on the flimsiest of terror charges. The two young Nigerians tasted a bit of this at a time when Hakan Cakil, Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, said reports of Nigerians arrested in his country were exaggerated, insisting that Nigerian students were safe. Then, there was the issue of the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s refusal to accede to the Erdogan administration’s request that Nigeria should shut down schools linked to followers of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish preacher, former imam and writer, who was once a critical ally in facilitating Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political success. Mohammed Abdullahi, who studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Bahçesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey told The Nation his story when asked to explain how he got ‘involved’ with the July coup.
He said: “I was sleeping soundly in my hostel when the constant noise of helicopter propeller in the sky woke me up. I did not even have the faintest idea that something like a coup was going on in the city. I only got to know about it from the updates that some friends were adding on Facebook.
“Later, on July 28, the person that sweeps the apartment that we were living in reported to the police that the building belongs to the Jamaat (linked to the Hizmet movement, followers of Gülen’s doctrines) which was branded as an armed terrorist group by the police. So, the police came and took us to the police station, we were interrogated but there was nothing found on us. “The next day, they took us directly to the court, and from court, they took us to prison straightaway. We were in the Maximum Security Prison for three months and were not allowed to see anyone except for those of us who had family members around. It was after one and a half months that someone came from the Nigerian Embassy.
He talked to us and assured us that they were working on our issue and Alhamdulillah, we are out now. “We were detained with soldiers and other civilians who were also accused (of involvement in the coup), and there were people with different cases. In our own case, the allegation was that we were members of an armed terrorist group,” he stated. The Nation learnt that the ‘crime’ of the students, which turned them into ‘suspects’ for the Turkish authorities was probably that of living in a hostel that belonged to the Hizmet movement, which is now labelled an “armed terrorist group” in spite of its dependence on intellectual debates, humanitarian activities, quality education and inter-religious dialogue to galvanize people.
“Thus, we were ‘suspects’. Right now, our computers, phones and our electronics are with them. They said we should wait till January 10 when the emergency situation will be over, and then they will send them to us. “In the prison, they normally brought lunch and dinner, and there was hot water for some hours in the day time.
There was a canteen, and we wrote if we wanted to buy something from the canteen. They would bring the list and the price tags for you. “I was lucky I had some money, so we were able to survive on that throughout our stay there. “Officials at the Nigerian Embassy in Turkey tried their best and even our friends outside too, even though I do not know what exactly each person did to draw attention to our plight. You can’t imagine how happy we were when a Nigerian embassy official came. Before then, for two good months, my friend and I were only seeing and interacting with the Turkish ‘suspects’,” Recalling his own experience, Hassan Adamu said: “We were there for three months but were allowed to call our families just once. It was really difficult because I had never imagined myself in prison. I am a student. My father sent me to Turkey to study and then this happened. “On the 15th of July, that was when it happened. I was actually going to play football because my friend invited me. I went to my hostel to dress up and go to the field but suddenly realised that I forgot my glasses and the house key in school,” he said as he explained the genesis of his troubles.
Having grown up in a home where much premium is placed on good behaviour, diminutive Adamu, who can be easily mistaken for a secondary school student, still feels some nightmares and psychological trauma. Although he was only waiting to collect his graduation certificate and study transcripts after completing his bachelor’s degree in Computer Studies at Bahçesehir University in Istanbul, Yobe State-born Hassan Adamu was arrested by the Turkish police on July 28.
“It is true that I was really scared and we were in a police cell for 14 days before we were taken to a stinking prison with no proper ventilation, where we met several Turkish soldiers and other professionals accused of involvement in the coup,” he said. Although there was not even a tiny shred of evidence to implicate Hassan and Mohammed, those who arrested them found no need to give any specific explanation to justify the broad accusation levelled against the Nigerian students. Briskly, they were made to pass through the rounds at the court and then taken in handcuffs like every other suspect to Silivri Maximum Security Prison. Officially known in Turkish as Silivri Ceza Infaz Kurumlari Kampüsü, the approximately 11, 000 capacity prison, according to www.wikipedia.org, is a high-security state correctional institution complex in the Silivri District of Istanbul Province in Turkey. “Covering an area of 437,000 m2 (4,700,000 sq ft) and stretching over 955,354 m2 (10,283,340 sq ft) land, the prison complex is composed of nine blocks, one open and eight L-type closed correctional institutions having a total capacity for 10,904 inmates,” it stated in its description of the state of the facility in 2008 when it was completed.
According to Hassan Adamu, some of the prison officials made futile recommendations that security agents should rather deport the students as the facility was not meant to accommodate foreign prisoners. “They made us to do frog jump, and hit us in the back in the process,” he recalled. According to the somewhat shy young men, soldiers and civilians accused of coup plotting along with convicts with various criminal career backgrounds populate the prison.
“There were many people accused of committing various offences. Our own case was that we were members of (Fetullah Gülen) Armed Terrorist Group because of the school and hostel we lived in. Founded by Enver Yucel, who was President of the World Education Entrepreneurs Association, President of the European Test Preparation Center Union and also a member of the Board of Trustees of New York University’s Steinhardt School Dean’s Council; the Bahçesehir Ugur Education Foundation, which runs Bahçesehir University, was once accused by some online groups of being part of the Gulen Charter Schools USA agenda to “dominate education worldwide”.
Enver Yucel had great success in increasing the number of educational institutions to 200, currently providing education to more than 150,000 students worldwide. In 1994, Mr. Yücel established Bahçesehir K-12 Schools, which provide ‘an intensive, comprehensive and analytical education to qualified, multilingual, analytical thinkers as graduates’. Furthermore, in 1998, he established Bahçesehir Ugur Education Foundation (BUEF), which provides educational funds to students who are studying at Ugur Education Institutions or other such institutions, but who do not have sufficient financial resources to continue their education.
Notwithstanding such aims and the benefits to Turkish citizens and others around the globe who enjoy scholarship and the benefits of quality education, all such pro-Gülen educational organisations, including the ones established in Nigeria have been branded as enemies by the Turkish government. Hence, the abortive request that President Buhari should help cripple such ventures by closing down the schools immediately. “I have never heard that the Turkish schools in Nigeria have done anything illegally since the time they began operation in Nigeria; I attended one of such excellent schools so, I see no reason why the school should be closed.
“Rather, I want President Muhammadu Buhari to take serious action over how Turkish authorities treated Nigerians who were studying there. Apart from us, they deported about 50 students and most of these students were not even allowed to take their transcripts. “President Buhari should not let the matter die like that. He should take serious action,” Mohamed said. In spite of their horrible experience, which runs contrary to their parents’ expectations, the two young men may still have cause to thank God that their ordeal ended after three months.
Reports indicate that pregnant Buket Buyukcelebi, a female researcher at Kilis University, who was sacked and jailed three months ago under an emergency decree, most likely over alleged links to Gülen, is being held in an overcrowded Gaziantep prison with her 13-month-old son.
Some 20 other detainees suspected of links with Gülen are said to have committed suicide in suspicious circumstances and the Turkish press reported that an engineer accused of leaking state secrets on behalf of Gulen, was found dead in his cell in Kirklareli prison on November 10.
Altogether, www.turkishpurge.com which has been keeping tabs on verifiable aspects of the crackdown that followed the July military coup in Turkey states that 105, 097 have been sacked, 76, 485 suspects are being detained, 2, 099 schools, dormitories and universities have been shut down while 6, 337 academics have lost their jobs, 3, 640 prosecutors and judges have been dismissed with 186 media outlets shut down and 144 journalists arrested. “In any case, we are just happy to be back home in our country, Nigeria,” Hassan said.