State Department warns US citizens to reconsider travelling to Turkey over arbitrary detention risks

The United States Department of State has classified Turkey as a “level three” risk out of four, in a new system designed to protect US citizens travelling to foreign countries and warned to “reconsider travel” to Turkey due to “terrorism and arbitrary detention” risks.

According to a report by online news portal Ahval on Thursday, the US State Department’s page on Turkey, which was updated on Jan. 10, advises citizens to “reconsider travel” to Turkey due to “terrorism and arbitrary detention” risks.

The page advises citizens not to travel to areas along the Syrian border or in the south east more generally, due to terrorism. The department also warns about conditions in Turkey under the current state of emergency, in effect since Jul. 20 2016:

“Under the current State of Emergency, security forces have detained individuals suspected of affiliation with alleged terrorist organisations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated. US citizens have also been subject to travel bans that prevent them from departing Turkey.”

“The Government of Turkey has detained and deported US citizens without allowing access to lawyers or family members, and has not routinely granted consular access to detained US citizens who also possess Turkish citizenship. US government personnel in Turkey are subject to certain security restrictions. Family members cannot accompany US government employees who work at the US Consulate in Adana,” it stated.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have undergone severe turbulence in recent months. A local employee at the US Consulate General in İstanbul, Metin Topuz, was arrested on terror charges in October 2017, just ahead of a trial of Mehmet Hasan Atilla, a former state-run Halkban deputy general manager, at a New York court on charges that he was helping an Iranian-Turkish businessman evade US sanctions on Iran.

As a retaliatory move the Turkish Foreign Ministry has also urged its citizens on Friday to reconsider their travel plans and take precautions against possible threats they might face in the United States. “We observe an increasing number of terror plots and acts of violence in the United States,” the ministry claimed in a statement.

It added that the attacks can be in the form of vehicles ramming pedestrians, bomb attacks, armed terror attacks and may be in city centers, cultural activities, metro stations, public buildings, prayer centers and even school campuses.

The US has recently experienced attacks in Ohio University, Forth Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport, Minnesota’s Dar Al-Farooq Mosque and a Texas church, as well as cars ploughing into people in Charlottesville and New York. The latest was a bomb attack in a New York metro on Dec. 12, 2017.

The ministry claimed these were attacks carried out by far-right and racist groups, urging its citizens to take precautions during their travels.

The move comes after the US urged its citizens on Thursday to reconsider travel to Turkey “due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has criticized US travel warning on Turkey as “unnecessary” on Friday. Speaking in Los Angeles during his visit to a cemetery for martyred Turkish diplomats, Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey and the US shouldn’t waste time on “unnecessary” actions not suiting an ally such as the new State Department warning on Turkey. “Turkey is much safer than the US,” he claimed.

According to a report by Hürriyet daily news on Friday, Ankara has voiced its disturbance over a substantial new travel advisory announced by the United States and summoned US Chargé d’Affairs Philip Kosnett in Ankara on Wednesday to voice its anger over the categorisation of Turkey as a country with an “increased security risk” along with Russia, Venezuela, Sudan, Pakistan and Guatemala. “We have expressed our disturbance with the inaccurate information posted in this travel advice,” a senior Turkish official told the Hürriyet daily news.

The call was Kosnett’s second summoning to the ministry in less than 24 hours, following one on Tuesday to protest Washington’s continued military assistance to a Syrian Kurdish group that Ankara considers a terrorist organisation.

Meanwhile, the head of Turkey’s controversial Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) on Thursday called on the Muslims in the US and the world to reunite, saying it had become divided on the basis of race and denominations in recent years. “The Muslim world was united under one banner a hundred years ago. However through a well-thought plan, which we are aware of, it was divided into 40 pieces,” Ali Erbaş said, in a meeting with the leaders of the American Muslim community at Diyanet Center of America (DCA) in Maryland. “We should all be aware of this as history repeatedly shows us how this system of exploitation was created.”

Highlighting that Muslims were provoked against each other over ethnic differences for centuries, he said, they are now being set against each other through terrorist organizations. Erbaş said that diverse ethnic backgrounds only add to the richness of Islam, as mentioned in the holy Quran.

According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency, following his speech, Erbaş took questions from Muslim opinion leaders. Responding to a question about what American Muslims can do for Turkey, he said: “We want you to spread the truth and the messages that Turkey stands for.” Recalling Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proverbial remark, “The world is greater than five”, he emphasized Turkey’s strong stance on persecuted Muslims throughout the world.

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