April 23, 2016

Turkish government unlawfully cancels passports of critics, columnist says

The Turkish government, which has stepped up its crackdown on critics, especially members of the Gülen movement, has unlawfully cancelled the passports of a number of people who are told that their passports had been registered as “lost” by petitions they say they never filed, a columnist has claimed.

Nazif Apak wrote in a column published in the Yeni Hayat daily on Saturday that many people, mainly businessmen, were unable to enter or leave the country as their passports were registered as “lost.” The translation of the column can be found below:

Who meddles with passports?
Nazif Apak

A businessman whose family has been dealing with trade for three generations was faced with a bizarre incident a few months ago. This businessman went to the airport with his children to fly to Turkey, but the officials there told him that his passport had been registered as “lost.” He was shocked. “How could that be possible? I came to your country with this passport, and I want to go to that country,” he replied. “I see, but there is nothing I can do. You have filed a petition, indicating that your passport has been lost,” the official retorted politely.

Is that possible?

How can a person file a petition to inform Turkish authorities that his passport has been lost although he was not in Turkey?

Soon it turned out that someone wrote a fake petition on behalf of this businessman –who was disliked by the ruling party as he refused to curry favor with it unlike some of his fellow businessmen– and undersigned it.

This businessman applied to the Interpol in the country where he was stranded. Interpol authorities were very angry. A senior official said: “Unfortunately, Turkey has been treating numerous people’s passport as “lost” through forgery of documents. This is common to the third world countries as well as dictatorships. In the past, Turkey wouldn’t do such things, but it has become very frequent in recent years. We no longer trust Turkey’s records…”

Which one is the worst: Turkey’s being disgraced abroad with sentiments of hatred or innocent people’s facing troubles at the most unexpected times and places? Let me noted that upon learning that their passports have been tinkered with, people apply to the Interpol for the cancellation of the forgery and then launch a legal action. These unlawful acts will be tried at international courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will issue high fines to Turkey. And those who put those fake signatures to those petitions will be severely penalized.

How can someone issue unlawful orders to the passport bureau of the Police Department? Which ‘smart guys’ can think of treating certain people’s passports as “lost” although they are not? Which officials imitate other people’s signatures in order to obey those unlawful orders?

If this was a single event, you could pass it off as the exorbitant act of an irresponsible man. But that is hardly the case. Many people with diverse professions suffer from this “lost” forgery. The world is aware of this intrigue. What about our officials? Are police chiefs aware of this chicane? What about the top police chief or the Interior Minister? If they are all aware of it, aren’t they committing a crime collectively? If they are not ignorant about it, who dares commit it?

Passports are not toys for politicians or bureaucrats. They are like ID cards; no one can seize them. Those transactions violate both the Constitution and the universal law…

There are other versions of passport tricks as well. For instance, people aren’t allowed to enter Turkey (according to a list prepared with some unknown criteria). They are not permitted to enter their homeland. It is a crime coupled with crime. Is there any court order? No. Blacklisting is a constitutional crime. It is a crime regardless of its being committed by the Police Department or the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). What are the charges raised against those people? What is the evidence? More importantly, do you allow people to defend themselves?

The same unlawfulness applies when you want to go abroad. Passports of certain people are seized at airports. It is another blacklisting operation. To cover up the blacklisting, sometimes, criminal judges of peace arbitrarily prohibit certain people from traveling abroad. But are the people who are banned aware of it? Do they know the charges against them, if any? Are they given the right to defend themselves? No. People (especially businessmen) learn about those so-called court orders when they are about to fly abroad and at that moment, their passports are confiscated. It is the tribal law. They don’t know the charges against them and they are not involved in the trial process and they aren’t given the right to defend themselves…

This time will pass, and those who commit crimes knowingly and try to defend themselves saying that they were ordered by their seniors to do so will find their excuses unacceptable.

Published on Turkish Minute, 23 April 2016, Saturday