Posted: 4:15 am ET
We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”) and the subsequent suspension of all visa services in Turkey following the incident (see U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee). In a reciprocal move, Turkey has also suspended all visa services at all posts in the United States.
Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.
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.
Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:
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.
We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.” The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.
Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.” On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.
Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?
In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.
Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.
But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?
Dual Turk-American Citizens
There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.
Okay — So Why the Why?
Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt, or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).