Mar 07 2019

Turkey views critical tourists as traitors deserving arrest

Foreign tourists suspected of opposing the Turkish government will be arrested upon arrival in Turkey, a top Turkish official said on Wednesday, drawing condemnation from Germany.  

“In Germany, in Europe, there are those who attend terrorist organisation events then go on vacation in Antalya, Bodrum and Mugla," Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said at a campaign rally for March 31 local elections, referring to Turkish resort towns, reported German news outlet Deutsche Welle.

"Let them come and go to prison directly from the airport,” he added. “From now on it won't be easy to commit treason abroad then come to Turkey for fun and good times.”

Soylu was likely referring to rallies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has led an armed insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 and is labelled a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the EU.

The threat appeared to be aimed primarily at visitors from Germany, which is home to the largest contingent of the Turkish diaspora, some 3 million people. Germany’s foreign office advised its citizens last October to avoid criticising the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on social media if they expect to visit Turkey.

Germany’s Foreign Office spokesperson Maria Adebahr said Soylu’s comments were "not helpful in the current situation”, according to DW. Last week, Turkey denied press accreditation to three German journalists, a move that was denounced by Germany.

“One of the biggest sources of conflict is the Erdoğan regime’s attempt to exercise influence over the roughly three million Germans who have Turkish roots,” said London newspaper The Times. Many support Turkey’s president, The Times added, but many also have ties to the PKK, and to the Gülen movement, which Ankara sees as behind the failed 2016 coup.

Since 2017, a handful of German Turks have been detained in Turkey and charged with various offences, including the journalist Deniz Yücel and a tourist on holiday in the western city of Izmir.  

A spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Soylu’s statement had been taken out of context and distorted, and that German tourists would be treated hospitably, according to DW.

Adebahr warned Germans to look at the foreign office's travel warnings and safety information, which clearly point to the risk of arrest. “Statements that are covered in Germany by freedom of expression can lead to prosecution in Turkey,” the spokesperson warned.