Erdogan makes about-turn on threat to expel western diplomats

Turkish president was unhappy with their support for jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a news conference following a Cabinet meeting in Ankara. Turkish Presidential Press Service via AFP
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After two days on the brink of a major diplomatic crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday rescinded his threat to expel 10 western ambassadors over their support for a jailed activist.

“We believe that these ambassadors, who have fulfilled their commitment to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention, will now be more careful in their statements,” he said in televised remarks after a three-hour Cabinet meeting in Ankara.

The envoys, including those of the US, Germany and France, last week called for the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala, 64, who has been in a Turkish prison for four years awaiting trial on charges many view as unfounded.

The ambassadors of the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and New Zealand also joined the appeal.

The joint statement, posted on the website of the US embassy in Ankara, said the "continuing delays in his trial, including by merging different cases and creating new ones after a previous acquittal, cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system".

As Monday’s Cabinet meeting was under way, the American embassy in Ankara tweeted that it “maintains compliance” with Article 41, which outlines diplomats’ duties to respect the laws of the host state and not to interfere in internal affairs.

Other missions posted the same message.

“Those who have shaped our country as they wished in the past panicked when Turkey made its own stand,” Mr Erdogan said after the meeting.

He portrayed the “outrageous” statement as a direct attack on Turkey’s judiciary and sovereignty.

“Our intention is never to create a crisis but to protect the dignity of our country,” Mr Erdogan said.

“Anyone who does not respect the independence of our country and the sensitivities of our nation, no matter what his title is, cannot be accommodated in this country.”

Mr Erdogan announced on Saturday that he had ordered the envoys to be declared personae non gratae, paving the way for them to be removed from Turkey.

The crisis threatened new turmoil in Ankara’s troubled relations with Nato allies and EU members.

ECBXBH Brussels, Belgium. 11th December, 2014. Osman Kavala, Chair of the cultural organisation Anadolu Kultur in Turkey holds press conference at European Parliament headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on 11.12.2014 International Peace and Reconciliation Initiative issued the Report on Turkey-Kurds Peace Process. Credit:  ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

The Turkish lira fell steeply after Mr Erdogan’s statement at the weekend, hitting a record low of 9.85 against the dollar on Monday morning.

Mr Kavala was acquitted in February last year of charges linked to nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

However, the ruling was overturned and joined to charges relating to a 2016 coup attempt. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

The European Court of Human Rights called for his release in 2019, saying his incarceration was not supported by evidence of an offence.

"Mr Kavala’s arrest and pretrial detention pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders," the European court said at the time.

The Council of Europe says it will start infringement proceedings against Turkey at the end of November if Mr Kavala is not freed.

"He remains detained despite six decisions and one interim resolution by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers defining his detention as arbitrary," it said in September.

Although Mr Kavala’s continued incarceration has been widely criticised abroad, Turkey maintains he is being held in accordance with the rulings of its independent judiciary.

Updated: November 01, 2021, 12:49 PM