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Syria activist disappears in Istanbul, amid pressure by Turkiye authorities to halt his work

December 5, 2023 at 9:14 pm

An aerial view of the Turkish flag and banners hung on the 15 July Martyrs Bridge in Istanbul, Turkiye on July 15, 2023 [Ali Atmaca – Anadolu Agency]

A Syrian human rights activist residing in the Turkish city of Istanbul disappeared a week ago, in a case which many suspect the Turkish authorities are involved in.

According to news outlets such as Le Monde, Turkish Minute and Serbestiyet, 45-year-old Syrian human rights activist, Ahmed Katie, left his workplace in İstanbul’s Yusufpasa neighbourhood after he was reportedly summoned by the police at a location he did not reveal when informing a relative.

According to his wife, Areej, he had told her on the phone that same evening that he had finished work and would come straight home. When she later tried to contact him, however, his phone was turned off and she was unable to reach him.

The couple, who have three children, were set to leave Turkiye for France soon, with Katie having gone to Istanbul’s central Taksim area that same morning to collect documentation from the French consulate. Until then, he had been living in Turkiye under temporary protection status, and the family’s move to France was intended for the purpose of seeking asylum there.

On 30 November, three days following his disappearance and after many unsuccessful attempts to contact him, Areej filed a missing person’s report for her husband with the Istanbul police. She demanded that the police examine the security camera footage at Katie’s workplace and track his phone, but there has not yet been any update revealed on that issue.

READ: HRW: Turkiye border guards kill, torture Syrians seeking asylum across border

There are concerns, however, that Turkish authorities and security services themselves may have been involved in the disappearance of the Syrian activist, as Le Monde reported that several people close to Katie revealed he had been under pressure from authorities in recent months. As the activist stated in a YouTube video recorded on 23 October, he received a call four days prior from someone allegedly from Turkish security services.

That individual told him to immediately head to the cafe Mado in Istanbul’s Aksaray Square, close to his workplace. He was met by three people in the cafe – two Turks and one translator into Arabic – and they ordered him to buy a SIM card in his name at a Turkcell store across the street, which he would then hand to them.

It remains unclear who the men were, but one of them had reportedly been at an Istanbul immigration office several weeks prior to that day, where Katie had gone to renew his documentation. The man reportedly asked the Syrian activist during the meeting at the café why he was defending Syrian refugees in the country and what his intentions were.

Shortly after that incident, Katie then posted a video on his Facebook page on 29 October, announcing his decision to cease his human rights activism. “Due to the particular circumstances and pressures I have recently been under, which have become too much for me to bear alone, I am announcing a total halt” to any human rights or media activities, he said.