PPJ report: Turkish gov’t cancels passports to condemn critical citizens to civil death

The Turkish government has deliberately condemned dissidents to civil death not only by firing and arresting them but also by canceling their passports, thus destroying their hope and ability to start new lives elsewhere, said a new report released by the Platform for Peace and Justice (PPJ) on Saturday.

The PPJ, a platform that monitors and reports developments in the fields of peace, justice, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, with a special focus on Turkey,  has released its latest report titled “Cancellation of Turkish Passports and Prevention of the Freedom of Movement.” The 17-page report analyses the legal ground for passport cancellations according to domestic and international law, with reference to the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shedding light on the abusive use of the cancellation of passports by the current Turkish government, the report illustrates that an ongoing state of emergency (SoE) was deliberately established to condemn dissidents to civil death, not only by firing and arresting them but also by destroying their hope and abilities to start new lives elsewhere.

The PPJ report also examines cases in which Interpol Red Notices have been abused by the Turkish government to harass dissidents abroad.

Highlights from the PPJ report:

“The Erdoğan government declared the state of [emergency] (SoE) for three months on 20 July 2016 after the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 and has continuously extended it. The country has been under the emergency regime for 18 months even though its conditions are not met. The number of the emergency decree laws issued have reached to 32. Even though the emergency law decrees should be transitory in nature, the Government has been exploiting the situation as an opportunity and has made some structural changes in the basic laws like the Turkish Penal Code, the Law of Criminal Procedure and in the structure of many state institutions, notably of the judicial bodies.

“On the other hand, nearly 150,000 public sector employees such as judges and prosecutors, lawyers, journalists, military personnel, academics, educational and health officials have been dismissed from their jobs with these decrees directly or indirectly by the institutions in reliance of such decrees, the dismissed peoples’ professional licences have been invoked, trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities, and thousands of private education and health institutions, media organs, associations, foundations, trade unions and confederations have been closed down.

“The main policy followed by the Government has been to create an atmosphere of “fear” for the opponent groups and thus a policy of ‘keeping them under control.’ With the help of the Government and the Judiciary under its control, thousands of opponents from every walk of life have been dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned, tortured, prevented from seeing their relatives and lawyers for a long time. Many incidents of kidnapping by the intelligence service have taken place; no information is available on those kidnapped to date. Even the incidents of abductions involving state offiials abroad had reportedly taken place. Thus, abolishing the freedom to travel is practiced yet as another pillar of this ‘fear’ and ‘keeping under control’ policy.

“The passport cancellations started with the Emergency Decree Law No. 667 and continued with the following decree laws. While the Decree No. 6677 cancelled passports on the ground that the dismissed public sector employees and other staff posed a threat to the national security and they had membership, affiliation, link or connection with the terrorist organizations, the passports of the spouses of the aforementioned were also cancelled with the Decree Law No. 673 even though there were no administrative processes or investigations conducted in relation to them.

“Article 5 of the Emergency Decree Law No. 667 states that ‘(1) Those against whom an administrative action is taken on the ground of their membership, or connection or contact with structure/entities, organizations, groups or terrorist organizations, which are found as established to pose a threat to the national security, and those against whom a criminal investigation or prosecution is conducted for the same reason shall immediately be reported to the passport department concerned by the institution or organization that takes the action. Upon this notification, the passports shall be cancelled by the passport departments concerned.’

“Even though there is nothing stipulating that the aforementioned individuals cannot be issued passports, this provision has been used as a justification for the decision not to grant new passports to these individuals. The authorities interpret this provision as not granting any right to recieve passports for the dismissed public sector employees who have been subject to such administrative action.

“At the first glance, it could be thought that the passports of the individuals whose names were mentioned in the Decrees (KHK) were cancelled, the reality is not like that. It is seen that the passports of those who are not public sector employees and who have no criminal investigation and prosecution, no administrative or judicial investigation being conducted on them and who have no contact with terrorist organisations or affiliation with terrorist organizations are also canceled. The Emergency Decree Laws which are not subject to any scrutiny of the Parliament and the Judicial review have not been considered enough, thousands of passports have been canceled by going beyond the bounds of any law.

“Article 10 of the Emergency Decree Law No. 773 has added the following provision to Article 5 of the Emergency Decree Law No. 667: ‘(2) The passports of the spouses of the persons whose names are reported to the passport unit concerned under the first paragraph of this Article may also be canceled by the Ministry of the Interior on the same date if they are found to be prejudicial in terms of general security.’

“By inserting this additional provision, it was sought to create a ‘legal’ foundation for the administrative practice of cancelling the spouses’ passports. This provision is deemed to be a legal cover for the revocation of the spouses’ passports, even if no administrative or judicial proceedings have been carried out in relation to them. As will be seen below, the spouses’ passports are cancelled even without complying with the requirements of this provision, which are by its wording open to arbitrary practices.

“Article 22 of the Passport Act No. 5682 enumarates conclusively in which cases passports shall not be issued. Accordingly, ‘No passport or travel document shall be issued to those persons going abroad who are banned by the courts and to the persons whose departure from the country is ascertained as prejudicial in terms of general security by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.’

“As it is understood from this provision, passports shall not be issued only for those who are prohibited from going abroad by judicial decision and for those whose departure from the country is viewed prejudicial by the Ministry of Interior. No one except these two categories can be deprived of the right to obtain a passport. As the reasons for not issuing passport are stated clearly and conclusively in the Act, it is not possible to expand on the reasons by way of interpretation.

“In practice, even though there are no ongoing judicial investigations or prosecutions, thousands of people’s freedom to travel are being violated by the passport cancellations. As there are no judicial decisions barring these people from going abroad, there are no determinations made by the Ministry of Interior that their departure are considered as prejudicial in terms of general security either. Therefore, neither conditions foreseen as a reason for not issuing passport under Article 22 of the Passport Act is applicable for these persons.

“Moreover, Article 23 of the Constitution clearly stipulates that freedom of travel may be restricted only by a judicial decision due to criminal investigation or prosecution. Therefore, Article 22 of the Passport Act which foresees passport refusal for those persons who are considered as prejudicial in terms of general security clearly violates Article 23 of the Constitution.

“The enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms is a general principle and their limitation is exceptional. Therefore, the regulations concerning the limitation of basic rights and freedoms should be narrowly construed. The Constitution envisages that the freedom to travel can be restricted only on the ground provided by the Constitution. The expansion of the ground of restriction by the Passport Act is completely against the Constitution and hence will not be unenforceable.

“On the other hand, investigations about other family members are verbally indicated as a ground for canceling the passports (generally for spouses) or for not processing the passport requests. However, investigations or prosecutions of other family members and children apart from the person himself cannot be used as a justificaiton for not issuing passport. This is not a reason cited by Article 23 of the Constitution or Article 22 of the Passport Act as ground for refusing passport.

“Further, the allegation or the fact of a family member commiting a crime can only be a concern for that person alone. It is clearly against the principle of individual criminal responsibility to restrict the freedom of travel of family members due to the alleged or otherwise actions of other family members. Article 38 of the Turkish Constitution stipulates that ‘criminal responsibility is personal’.”

HARASSING TURKISH  DISSIDENTS THROUGH INTERPOL

“Though commonly described as an international police agency, Interpol is actually an organization of law enforcement agencies/institutions (which communicate to Interpol through their respective National Central Bureaus). Interpol is based on respect for the sovereignty of its member states and it does not make arrests on its own. The agency (Interpol) controls a bunch of data systems, the date in it are owned by its member states. Interpol is obliged by its own Constitution to follow a number of rules, including avoiding any intervention in political, military, religious and ethnic affairs. According to Interpol’s constitution article §2 abd §311, the organisation must stick to recognized crimes like murder, robbery, and arson.

“A number of local and international press reports emphasized that, Turkey wanted to “abuse” Interpol’s law enforcement mechanisms to chase after and slience Erdoğan’s dissidents from all segments of the Turkish society… It is almost cristal clear that Turkey wanted to include 60,000 and/or more individuals into Interpol’s various data bases just right after the failed coup attempt. Turkey wanted to restrict and strand the freedom of movement of President Erdoğan’s critics in Turkey and around the world.

“On the other hand, some cases implied that Turkey had sought Interpol’s Red Notices on those 60,000 individuals. Red Notices are commonly described as international arrest warrants, though they are not binding requests to other Interpol member states to locate and arrest the named individuals, coupled with a pledge from a nation that requested the Red Notice to seek the extradition of those individuals.

“…Interpol had “removed Turkey from its database” after the Turkish government sought to report 60,000 people to Interpol on the grounds that they were members of Gülen movement. Though Interpol denied the allegations about suspending or blocking Turkey’s access to Interpol’s systems, it made it clear in its statement to BBC on the following day that they did not process Turkey’s request to add 60,000 people into Interpol’s systems due to ‘non-occurrence.’ This means that the requests did not comply with Interpol’s rules on avoiding involvement in political activities, that they lacked proper documentation, such as a court order or an arrest warrant, or both.

“Upon a request from a member nation, adding 60,000 individuals to Interpol’s data base in one day tells us a lot. Nominal Interpol data base, in 2015, contained just over 163,000 records. Turkey’s attempt to put more 60,000 would icrease the data base by well over a third. It has taken over 70 years to accumulate 163,000 records. For one country to seek to add 60,000 records in a single day was unprecedented.

“Oddly enough, no notification is sent by the administrative units to the individuals whose passports are cancelled; when the individual in question goes to the airport with the passport he/she carries, the passport is seized on the ground that the passport is stolen or lost and then the person in question is prevented from leaving the country.

“By acting in this manner, the public administration is both committing the crime of forgery in the official documents and seriously impairing the dignity and reputation of those individuals by means of such act of seizure of the passports of the individuals via putting a stolen or missing annotation on their passports.

“Such passport cancellations put the Turkish citizens living abroad in more difficult position. The individuals can neither go to another country nor return to their countries. Besides, some are also exposed to investigations by the judicial authorities. The Turkish consulates abroad even refuse consular services for these people.

“Even though it is envisaged under Article 23 of the Constitution that freedom to travel may only be restricted by a judicial decision due to criminal investigation or prosecution, it has also been reiterated with the past judicial decisions that the prohibition of the citizens’ freedom to travel with the determination of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in accordance with the Article 22 of the Passport Act is both against the law and unconstitutional.

“As a matter of law, passports of hundreds of thousands of individuals who had nothing to do with the declaration of the state of emergency have been cancelled by the provisions of the Decree Law No. 667 and 773, and a good part of it have not been able to use their freedom of travel.

“What is even worse is that the passport cancellations and prevention of the freedom to travel take place in an irresponsible way and are based on legally absurd grounds even contrary to Article 22 of the Passport Act and to the provisions of the decree laws which are themselves contrary to Article 23 of the Constitution and the international treaties.

“Upon the cancellation of passports of the individuals who have no ongoing investigation or connection, affiliation or membership with terror organizations, their application for getting new passports or for removing the travel ban have been rejected on the basis of the Right to Information Act No. 4982. The passport cancellations and the restrictions on the freedom to travel are being used as method of collective punishment by the government for the individuals and families even without bothering to find any link with the ‘alleged’ crime.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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