US Ambassador to Turkey on suspension of visa services: This was not a decision we took lightly

US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass has released a written statement on Monday over suspension of all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey and said that “This was not a decision we took lightly and it’s a decision we took with great sadness.”

“We realize that the suspension of visa services will inconvenience people. We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter,” added Ambassador Baas.

The US mission to Turkey said on Sunday it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey, on the grounds that it needed to “reassess” Turkey’s commitment to its personnel.

“Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel,” the statement by the mission in Ankara said. “In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey.”

Stating that “I want to convey to our Turkish friends and partners the reasons for the US government’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa services at our embassy and consulates in Turkey, and to explain what this suspension means,” said Ambassador Baas and continued as follow: 

“In the Embassy’s statement yesterday (Sunday), we said we were suspending non-immigrant visa services. The suspension allows us to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while we assess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel. Here is what led us to take this decision:

“Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee. The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens. Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

“Particularly disturbing is that some Turkish officials apparently have provided information about the allegations to certain news outlets—again without informing the accused or his legal counsel. The news organizations repeated allegations that in his official capacity working for our embassy – the employee spoke with members of the Turkish government, police, or prosecutors about law enforcement matters.

“Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job. Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

“This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States. If true, this would put the people who work with, and work at, and visit our diplomatic facilities at risk. We don’t know if these arrests are singular events or if we should expect other Turkish staff members to be arrested for simply speaking to Turkish government officials or the wider Turkish public in the course of their duties. 

“Our local staff members are Turkish citizens and we, of course, expect them to observe Turkish law like any other citizen of the Republic. They have a right to expect Turkish authorities will provide appropriate legal protections and due process, including the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, in accordance with the Turkish constitution, and the principles of rule of law that all modern democracies follow.

“Now this suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens. It’s a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications. If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States.  If you want to apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so.

“This was not a decision we took lightly and it’s a decision we took with great sadness. We realize that the suspension of visa services will inconvenience people. We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter. The duration will be a function of ongoing discussions between our two governments about the reasons for the detention of our local staff members and the Turkish Government’s commitment to protecting our facilities and our personnel here in Turkey.”

Last week, a US consulate employee in İstanbul was arrested on charges of links to the Gülen Movement, a move condemned by Washington as baseless and damaging to ties between the NATO allies.

The US Embassy in Turkey had issued an official statement on Twitter on Thursday concerning the arrest of a locally employed staff member in İstanbul on Wednesday and had stated that “The United States Government is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a locally-employed staff member of the US Consulate General İstanbul on October 4, and by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law. We believe these allegations to be wholly without merit,” the US Embassy said on its official Twitter account, adding “Baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees undermine and devalue this longstanding partnership.”

Metin Topuz, a staff member, allegedly had regular phone calls before corruption investigations went public Dec. 17-25, 2013 with then-İstanbul Deputy Public Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and the chiefs of police in charge of the probes.

US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass had also expressed his disturbance at the arrest of Topuz, a longtime employee of the consulate. “I am deeply disturbed that some people in the Turkish government prefer to try this case through media outlets rather than properly pursuing the case in a court of law before a judge. That does not strike me as pursuing justice, it seems to me more a pursuit of vengeance,” Bass said.

Metin Topuz was detained on Sunday under the order of the anti-terror and organized crime unit of the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office and was arrested by a court on Thursday. As part of the investigation targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement, the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office anti-terror and organized crime unit had filed a case against chiefs of police Yakup Saygılı, Nazmi Ardıç, Mahir Çakallı and Mehmet Akif Üner and fugitive former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz.

The Gülen movement is a global civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the AKP government and autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 despite Gülen’s repeated denials of any involvement.

Meanwhile, a detention warrant has reportedly been issued for another US Embassy staff. According to a report by Hürriyet daily on Monday, the person facing detention warrant hasn’t left the embassy and yet to be captured. However, the wife and child of the US Consulate staff member were detained in Amasya over links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

According to the report, US Consulate employee N.M.C.’s wife S.C. and his child K.İ.C. were detained in the Merzifon district of Amasya province as part of an investigation into Gülen movement members while N.M.C. has remained in the consulate building in İstanbul.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a detention warrant for N.M.C., who works in a consulate department handling issues with Turkish law enforcement. The police were unable to detain him because he has remained in the consulate building. According to the report, his wife opened a bank account at Bank Asya, which was seized in 2015 by the Turkish government over links to the Gülen movement after Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly targeted it.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the  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’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup. Turkish government has also suspended or dismissed more than 150,000  judges, teachers, police and civil servants after the coup attempt.

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