Lahore, Nov 29 : In a setback to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a Pakistani court today stopped his government from deporting about 400 Turkish expatriates, mostly schoolteachers and their families, which was aimed at appeasing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Lahore High Court Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza passed an interim order on a writ petition filed by Turkish principal Mehmet Ali Seker and other teachers of the Pak-Turk Educational Foundation. Since the Pak-Turk schools and colleges has alleged links with the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkish President Erdogan for July’s coup attempt, the Pakistani government had ordered 450 Turkish teachers and their family members to leave the country by November 20.

Some of the Turkish families left for other countries (not Turkey) while other filed a petition in different high courts of the country. Mirza stopped the federal government from deporting the Turkish citizens or taking any other action against them. The court also sought a reply from interior ministry on the issue. Known rights activist and advocate Asma Jahangir, a counsel for Turkish teachers, argued before the court that the petitioners had been lawfully residing in Pakistan.

“They have legal visas and are abiding by the laws of the country having clean and unblemished record,” she said, adding the interior ministry had refused to extend visas of the petitioners without disclosing any reason. Jehangir said the interior ministry’s order to deport the petitioners and other Turkish nationals of the foundation is illegal.

“Even some of the petitioners and their families are possessing valid visas till Jan 2017,” she said and further argued that the ministry was planning a smooth takeover of the foundation in favour of a different organisation owing to domestic politics in Turkey. She said the acts of the federal government amounted to indirectly winding up the Pak-Turk Foundation without any legal course and consent of its directors. She pointed out that Peshawar High Court had already granted a stay against any punitive action against the members of the foundation in Pakistan.

The petitioners pleaded that they and their families could not be deported until they were not given the opportunity of hearing. The judge sought a detailed reply from the interior ministry on the matter by January 17. The Turkish teachers say they have reports that they will be arrested on arrival in Turkey. “We have reports that the Turkish authorities will arrest us on arrival in Istanbul,” said a Turkish teacher.