With ‘grim’ situation at home, Turkish Nato officers seek asylum

With post-coup crackdown continuing, a number of officers have sought asylum in the countries they are posted rather than return to Turkey.

The United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye speaks about freedom of expression in Turkey at a press conference in Ankara on November 18, 2016. Adem Altan / AFP
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Brussels // A number of Turkish officers serving in Nato command posts have asked for asylum since a failed military coup in July, the head of alliance said on Friday, as the UN rapporteur on freedom of expression described the situation in the country as “grim”.

“Some Turkish officers working in Nato command structures ... have requested asylum in the countries where they are working,” Jens Stoltenberg told a security conference in Brussels.

“We have seen a number of changeovers in the Nato command structure where Turkish personnel has been changed,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

He said the Nato countries concerned would make their own asylum decisions rather than the alliance headquarters in Brussels.

“We would be wrong if we started to go into that kind of legal issue; that’s for the judicial system” of the countries concerned, he said.

Mr Stoltenberg did not name the countries or say how many Turkish officers were involved.

German media reported on Thursday that several Turkish officers from the Nato base in Ramstein had asked for political asylum together with their families.

"There is more than one person," Paul Junker, chief administrator for the district of Kaiserslautern, told Der Spiegel weekly magazine.

On Friday the German office for migration and refugees said 4,437 Turkish citizens has applied for asylum between January and October, more than double the number last year.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused western powers of failing to show enough support after the July 15 coup attempt and rejected their charges that he is violating human rights with his massive crackdown against people allegedly linked to the plotters.

On Friday, 76 academics were detained at a university in Istanbul as part of the investigation into the movement allegedly responsible for the failed coup. The state Anadolu news agency said detention warrants were issued for a total of 103 employees at Yildiz Technical University on charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organisation”.

Turkey declared a state of emergency following the failed coup and has arrested nearly 37,000 people including opposition legislators, journalists, bureaucrats and academics. About 100,000 people were fired or suspended from government jobs.

The UN rapporteur on freedom of expression warned the Turkish government on Friday that the need to respond to the coup attempt was not a “blank cheque”.

“The conclusions I would say are fairly grim and reflect what I think is a deep sense of restriction on freedom of opinion and expression throughout the country,” David Kaye said on a visit to Ankara.

He said it was clear that Turkey faced threats after the coup bid – as well as from extremist and Kurdish militants.

“But this does not mean that the government has, in a sense, a blank cheque to do anything it wants to restrict freedom of expression,” he said.

“We have seen across the board that restrictions interfere with different aspects of life in Turkey.”

Mr Kaye is an independent legal expert tasked with reporting back to the UN human rights council. He will present a formal report in spring.

He has met five jailed staff members of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, as well as acclaimed translator Necmiye Alpay who is also under arrest.

However he was denied access to renowned novelist Asli Erdogan and the influential anti-Erdogan columnist at Cumhuriyet, Kadri Gursel.

The UN said Mr Kaye was also unable to meet the arrested International Criminal Court judge Aydin Sefa Akay.

Mr Kaye warned that there would long-term consequences from the pressure on academics, hundreds of whom have been sacked or dismissed for alleged links to coup plotters or Kurdish rebels.

“If it [the purge] continues, people will leave – as long as they have access to their passport. They could go teach somewhere else, they could leave the country,” he said.

“The more academics leave, the less you have educators in the country for the next generation.”

Mr Kaye presented a series of initial recommendations, including a call to release all detained journalists and the repeal of defamation legislation which makes it an offence to insult the president and other public officials.

* Agence France-Presse