The Albanian Helsinki Committee expressed concern about the interior minister’s decision to exclude it from the commission handling asylum requests after it criticised the authorities for not offering refuge to Turks fleeing political persecution.

Albania Govt Expels Rights Group from Asylum Commission

Albanian Minister of Internal Affairs Bledi Çuçi. Photo: LSA

The Albanian Helsinki Committee, one of the oldest rights groups in the country, sent an open letter on Wednesday to Interior Minister Blendi Cuci, asking him to reverse a decision to remove it from the commission handling asylum requests.

The decision to oust the AHC from the commission came after it criticised refusals to grant asylum to Turkish citizens seeking refuge who claimed that they were threatened with political persecution because of their support for exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims is a terrorist responsible for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

One of them, Harun Celik, was extradited to Turkey in January 2020. The commission then denied an asylum request for another, Selami Simsek, in September 2020.

In March 2021, the Albanian Administrative Court ruled that the commission’s decision was not legal.

Many Turkish supporters of Gulen have been jailed since the failed coup attempt, in what critics say is a heavy-handed crackdown on opponents by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The AHC’s open letter said that the move to exclude it marks a “regression in the [committee’s] standards of transparency, accountability and responsibility”.

“We observe with concern that AHC is no longer a member of the commission, which is now comprised only of representatives of four ministries and one representative from the secret services,” it said.

It observed that its removal from the commission apparently happened some six months ago, but it was not notified immediately about the change.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to BIRN’s request for a comment by the time of publication.

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