In Ghorbanov and Others v. Turkey (no. 28127/09), handed down on 2 December 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the rights to liberty and protection from ill-treatment of 19 Uzbek nationals were violated by their repeated summary detention and deportation by Turkish authorities, without judicial authority, from Turkey to Iran in 2008.

The victims, 12 of whom were children at the relevant time, are members of four Muslim families who used to live in Uzbekistan and are now living in hiding in Turkey. They fled Uzbekistan in the 1990s due to state pressure on Muslims and, after spending four years in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, settled in Iran in 2001 and were granted refugee status by UNHCR in early 2006. The Iranian authorities rejected the families’ request for a school to be established in the refugee camp and threatened them with deportation to Uzbekistan. Fearing this, the families again fled, this time to Turkey, in 2007. The families were recognised as refugees by UNHCR and granted temporary residence, food rations and school places for their children.

On 12 September 2008, the applicants were allegedly invited to Turkish police headquarters to collect food rations and school stationery. However, on arrival, they were instead detained, driven to the border, and deported to Iran on the same day. The applicants re-entered Turkey irregularly the following week, only to be collected from their homes by police officers and deported to Iran for a second time on 11 October 2008. Their second deportation forced the applicants to walk for ten days in winter conditions between villages close to the Turkey-Iran border. They sought assistance from the Iranian gendarmerie, who detained the applicants for two days before returning them to Turkey.

The Turkish Ministry of the Interior’s position was that the applicants were former members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist organisation according to the EU and the USA, and had been deported to Iran, a safe third country, in compliance with the legislation in force. The applicants complained to the ECtHR that their rights under Articles 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) and 5(1), (2) and (4) (rights to liberty, to be informed of the reasons for detention, and to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court) had been violated.

The court noted that the applicants were recognised refugees, mostly children, and in possession of valid residence permits. Furthermore, the Turkish government had failed to answer questions and submit evidence to the court of a formal deportation order communicated to the applicants, of an admission guarantee from the Iranian authorities, and of any official record of the deportation. On this basis, the court decided that, even if the Turkish authorities regarded some of the applicants as dangerous for national security, this was an illegal and apparently premeditated deportation to an Iran, a non-member state of the Council of Europe, without any legal procedure or safeguards, and therefore amounted to a violation of Article 3.

Relying on Abdolkhani and Karimnia v. Turkey (no. 30471/08), a case which concerned a similar grievance, the court also found violations of Article 5(1) and (2), in view of the absence of a clearly established detention procedure and the failure to inform the applicants of any reasons for detention. Consideration of Article 5(4) was not deemed necessary.

The court awarded each applicant 10,000 Euros compensation.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 06 December 2013
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