Turkey bars entry of critics by adding their names next to ISIL suspects

Esra Yanık and her family were interrogated by Turkish police at Kapıkule border gate on Turkey-Bulgaria border on their return from spending a vacation in Turkey on August 2015.

Turkey has been arbitrarily refusing the entry for foreign nationals of Turkish origin who are deemed critical of the country’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government, citing the national security risks.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has recently identified three cases where Austrian nationals of Turkish origin were deported from Turkey after getting profiled as government critic by Turkish embassy in Vienna and consulates in Austria.

In a scandalous development, the government has been secretly adding names of legitimate government critics who live abroad to the list of suspected Jihadists who are drawn up from the pool of data gathered from international partners as well as national intelligence data. As of the end 2016, Turkey has barred 52,075 foreign nationals from 145 countries from entry into the country.

It has deported 4,019 people from 98 different nationalities, according to the Interior Ministry data.

Although Turkish government brags about these figures as an indication on how it is serious on cracking down on Jihadists, it turns out people who have nothing to do with terror and violence at all were added to this list because they were affiliated with Gülen movement that is highly critical of Turkish government on pervasive corruption and Ankara’s aiding and abetting to radical groups in Syria. What is more, these people who were barred from the entry were later notified by Turkish police to their counterparts in receiving countries as possible terror suspects, victimizing law-abiding citizens, wasting resources of law enforcement agencies in partnering countries.

The names of identified people in this list pop up on the screen of police with a code “G87”, raising the red flag, when they are checked against the database at the immigration and customs clearing checkpoints of Turkish border gates. In some cases, police at the Risk Assessment Center that operates at 37 airports in Turkey, also screen incoming passengers for possible links to Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). These centers were wet up in 2014 when Turkey came under intense pressure from the US-led anti-ISIL coalition for allowing Jihadists to use Turkish territory as a conduit to travel to Syria and Iraq.

Yet, Turkish government has dealt a blow to the integrity of the list by starting to add names of the legitimate critics such as members of Gülen movement, Kurdish political movement and even critical foreign journalists and foreigners working for the non-governmental organizations to the ISIL list by reclassifying their names under the code G87.

It appears the data for these people was obtained from the mass profiling of unsuspecting critics abroad by Turkish government employees including diplomats and Imams. Pro-Erdoğan organizations abroad also help Turkish intelligence agency to spy on these critics and illegally collect information about them.

In one case SCF investigated, Esra Yanık and her family were interrogated by Turkish police at Kapıkule border gate on Turkey-Bulgaria border on their return from spending a vacation in Turkey on August 2015. When police asked Yanık Family how they entered into Turkey, she said “We told them we came with our car and passports to enter through normal procedures at Kapıkule border gate.” Police told them there was an entry ban instituted against them on July 23, 2015, meaning that they can never enter into Turkey forever.

“I was even threatened with a detention right there on the spot,” she recalled her ordeal, adding that the police probed her and family members about what mosques and associations they had attended in Austria. She said she asked police how their names ended up in such a list and on what grounds the entry ban was established for them. Police said the list came through Turkish Foreign Ministry which picked up the names from the report forwarded by the Turkish Embassy in Vienna.

“We asked the police to give a document stating that we are barred from the entry into Turkey, but they said no. We were told the information about us is highly confidential and police is empowered to use this information through intergovernmental laws. They said the ban was part of a code known as G87,” Esra Yanık told SCF investigators. When the family of Yanık asked an explanation on this code, a police officer told them “you have been involved in a propaganda against Turkey in Austria.”

Esra Yanık says he heard about some ten more similar cases in the same month involving Austrian nationals of Turkish origin who live in federal state of Vorarlberg. They are all involved in similar associations linked with the Gülen movement in Austria.

Following her safe return to Austria, Esra Yanık started talking to people whom she knew from pro-Erdoğan groups in order to understand how she and her family members were profiled and how their names were conveyed to the Turkish government. It turned out a Turkish consular officer and a religious attaché working out of Turkish Embassy convened several meetings with four Turkish organizations in Austria and asked them to spy on members of Gülen movement.

The meeting was attended by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a European arm of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); the Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Organizations in Austria (ATİB), an umbrella organization run by the religious attaché at the Turkish Embassy that oversees scores of mosques in Austria; the National View movement; a political Islamist group; and Ülkücü (Gray Wolves) movement that is attached to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Turkey, an ally of Erdoğan. “My friends advised me to make a trip to the embassy to ask officials to remove my name from the list and tell them ‘I’m not a Gülenist’”, she remembered.

Esra Yanık said she heard imams working at mosques affiliated with ATİB and National View have regular weekly meetings with the religious attaché working out of Vorarlberg Turkish Consulate. Sometimes they also attended to meetings organized by the Religion Consular officer employed at Turkey’s Vienna Embassy. The main topic in these meetings has been Gülen movement and how to gather intelligence on them and profile their members. “We were told by many to watch out, not to risk imprisonment or seizure of assets in Turkey,” she noted.

Yanık family could not file legal challenges in Turkey because they are barred from making a trip there. They tried to use power of attorney to file a legal suit through an acquaintance but the lawyer said it would be a futile attempt under the current environment in Turkey which saw the suspension of the rule of law and dismantling independent judiciary. Several people went to the Turkish Embassy to probe about the entry bans but the Embassy referred them to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Esra Yanık says she feels stigmatized by the arbitrary ban on entry into Turkey, saying she could not even attend to weddings and funeral services of her loved ones back in Turkey. “We felt excluded. My new born baby did not meet their grandparents yet. My husband could not visit his ailing parents who live back in Turkey,” she lamented.

Orhan Keleş

Orhan Keleş (34) is another Austrian national of Turkish origin who faced similar entry ban in Turkey. On August 17, 2015, Keleş made a trip to İstanbul over Zurich but his passport was seized at the police control point on the grounds that there was an entry ban for him. He was taken to a room and forced to sign a form which stated that “You are hereby informed that you cannot enter into our country based on the relevant articles in the Law No. 6458 on Foreigners and International Protection.”

Article 15 of the Law No.6458 states that visa shall be refused for those foreigners who are banned from entering Turkey and who are considered to be risk for public order, or public security or public health. It lists suspects and convicts in similar category. Article 7 of the same law says foreigners who shall be refused to enter into Turkey when they do not hold a passport, a travel document, a visa or, a residence or a work permit or, such documents or permits has been obtained deceptively or, such documents or permits are false.

The notification given to Keleş did not list the reason for refusal of his entry into Turkey at all. Talking to SCF, Keleş said he works as the secretary in an education organization called Galileo Institute. “I heard about a case of a family who was refused an entry into Turkey from border but I had already purchased my ticket and made my travel plans. I wanted to try my chance. But after passport control, I was refused the entry. I was forced to board a return flight to Zurich. When my plane was landed, the Swiss police was waiting for me. The whole saga was quite upsetting for me even though I knew the risks. I learned later that I was subjected to this treatment in Turkey because I was profiled by Turkish government as critic,” he explained.

“All people who work for Galileo Institute were profiled by the Turkish government. Those who hold Austrian nationality were listed as foreigners who cannot enter into Turkey,” Keleş added.

F.E. (37), another Austrian national of Turkish origin who also works at the same institute, also faced similar challenges during her visit to Turkey. She faced an entry ban when she flew to İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport from Munich on September 1, 2015. She was taken aside at the passport control and put in a room where she was shown how her name listed among banned people on computer screen.

“You are in the same category as terrorists, the police told me,” she said, adding to that “they told me I presented a danger to Turkey.” The notification document given to her stated that she is subject to a limited entry ban but did not include the reason for the refusal of entry. When asked how long the ban would be in effect, police did not say anything.

Although she faced the entry ban, her husband and two children were not on the banned list. They got separated at the airport. She said: “I was taken to a room that has no window. I stayed there overnight with other passengers who had visa troubles. Next morning, police escorted me to the plane but did not give my passport back. When we landed in Munich, a crew member came and said she would escort me to the gate where a police officer was waiting for me.”

“My mother was worried sick and cried out a lot. She lamented that I would not even be able to come for a funeral if she passes away,” F.E. said.

April 27, 2017

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