18 April 2014, Friday
Today's Zaman

Today's Zaman's Mahir Zeynalov leaves Turkey under deportation threat

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6 February 2014, Thursday /TODAY'S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL
Mahir Zeynalov, a journalist for Today’s Zaman, left Turkey for his native Azerbaijan on Friday morning following a government decision to deport him for posting tweets deemed critical of the government.

Zeynalov was accompanied by his wife, a Turkish national, and escorted by police as he left the country. He elected to return to Azerbaijan due to his family’s concerns, but plans to relocate to a third country -- likely to New York City -- after making the return home.

A formal deportation procedure took place after Zeynalov arrived at İstanbul's Atatürk Airport to board a 9:15 a.m. flight to Baku, after which he and his wife were accompanied by police to their flight.

Zeynalov has been put on a list of foreign individuals who are barred from entering Turkey under Law No. 5683, because of “posting tweets against high-level state officials,” Today's Zaman learned. The decision, dated Feb. 4, is signed by Deputy Police Director Ali Baştürk on behalf of the interior minister.

Article 19 of Law No. 5683, which covers foreigners' residence in Turkey, allows the deportation of foreigners “whose residence in Turkey is considered detrimental to public security and political and administrative requirements.”

The move comes in an already-troubling atmosphere for media freedom. Late on Wednesday, Parliament passed a controversial bill tightening government control over the Internet in a move that critics say is aimed at silencing dissent.

The decision to authorize the deportation of Zeynalov came after an application to the Prime Ministry's Coordination Center (BİMER) that “statements contrary to the facts” were being made on the Twitter account @mahirzeynalov. That application was followed by a formal request to police intelligence to identify the owner of the account, and the intelligence unit discovered the account's owner to be Zeynalov. The decision to deport Zeynalov and ban his entry into Turkey came following the verification that the account in question belongs to Zeynalov.

Zeynalov is already the target of a criminal complaint filed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for tweets he posted on Dec. 25, 2013, about a graft scandal that shook the government last year, as Erdoğan says the tweets included “heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity.”

Zeynalov, in formal testimony given about the accusations last week, denied the charges of attempting to “incite hatred and animosity” among the public, noting that he had only tweeted links to two news reports that included no opinion or criticism.

The first tweet contained a link to a news report about the second wave of a massive graft operation and the police's obstruction of a raid involving more than 40 suspects, including Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi -- who is on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Turkish media close to the government immediately launched a smear campaign, accusing Zeynalov of “trying to portray Erdoğan as protecting al-Qaeda members” to the world.

"Turkish prosecutors order police to arrest al-Qaeda affiliates, Erdoğan's appointed police chiefs refuse to comply,” read the first tweet. In the second tweet, Zeynalov shared a news report detailing al-Qadi's escape from the country after police chiefs blocked the raid on Dec. 25, 2013.

Worrying trend

The government's draconian measures to expand government control over the media have elicited criticism from the opposition at home, the European Union and international media freedom watchdogs.

In a report released on Monday, Freedom House said the Turkish government has failed to resist the temptation of authoritarianism embedded in the state and has applied strong-arm tactics to suppress the media through intimidation, mass firings, buying off or forcing out media moguls, wiretapping and imprisonment, “which are not acceptable in a democracy.”

According to the report, editors and reporters from across Turkey's media have told Freedom House about “angry phone calls from the prime minister's office after critical stories run, and of media owners being told to fire specific reporters. In a growing number of cases, editors and owners are firing reporters preemptively to avoid a confrontation with government officials.”

Just this week, a voice recording available on YouTube revealed that Erdoğan gave phone instructions last summer to a senior executive of the Ciner Media Group, to which Habertürk news channel belongs, to stop a news ticker on Habertürk which the prime minister considered unfavorable. In the news ticker, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli called on President Abdullah Gül to intervene and decrease the tension during the Gezi Park protests, which rocked the country at the beginning of last summer.

In a further indication of government interference in the media, allegations have recently surfaced that the government instructed businessmen who had won major public tenders, including one for the construction of a third airport in İstanbul, to contribute money to a fund to buy the Turkuvaz Media Group that owns, among other media, the ATV television channel and the widely circulated Sabah daily.

Troubles for foreign journalists

Zeynalov's case underlines the hardships faced by foreign journalists based in Turkey. Foreign journalists can work and obtain a residence permit in Turkey after obtaining a press visa from the Turkish embassies in their home countries and a press card from the Prime Ministry's Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM).

Zeynalov, who has held a press card for the past four years, said he has applied to the BYEGM this year for the annual renewal of his press card. He has been told by a BYEGM official in İstanbul that the İstanbul office had received a notice from the BYEGM headquarters specifying that the BYEGM, using its discretion, is refusing to renew his press card.

Zeynalov has a residence and work permit valid until March 10, 2014. Zeynalov, who has been married to a Turkish woman for 15 months, would be eligible for Turkish nationality in three years.

Similar problems also affected Dutch journalist Bram Vermeulen last year. It emerged that the Dutch journalist appeared to have been put on blacklist after his press card was not automatically renewed. He said he had also been told that he would not be able to enter Turkey, even on a tourist visa, due to security concerns. His legal problems, however, were quickly fixed after his story made it into the Turkish and international media and sparked a wave of criticism.

Poor Turkey, God help Turkish people
Article dedicated to Merkel and all others intending to open more discussion on Turkey's EU membership.
Georgios Milopoulos
Wow. There's an awful lot of foreign journalists working in Turkey, and I've never met a single one that was not critical of Erdogan. Hope this isn't setting yet another precedent.... Good luck Mahir.
Sultan Davut
It is a shame. A legal resident forced to leave 'cause of his opinion,
[Jack K] are you serious ? You have not read Mr. Zeynalov's uniformly Anti-Armenian, Anti-Artsakh articles. Why would we want him in Yerevan ? It is interesting that Mr. Zeynalov is even afraid to stay in his home country of Azerbaijan: Sultan Aliyev's goons do not tolerate any dissent. Azerbaijan i...
This is so disgraceful and fundamentally wrong when a journalist gets deported but a questionable person like Zarrab can come and go as he pleases with Erdogan,s blessing. It is time the people of Turkey face the truth about their Prime Minister.
Leaving Turkey? Smart guy indeed... Regards
Poor guy, from the frying pan into the fire. I hope he can return to Turkey, which is relatively freer in the future. Otherwise, I believe that he should be offered a home in Yerevan.
Jack Kalpakian
Does this now also mean that Turks with recidence permits in for example England or Germany and who are critical to Cameron or Merckel also risk being kicked out of the country?
Turkey's political agenda reminds me 90's years of the Azerbaijan political turmoils..
This is injustice at its worst. I hope Erdogan and his gang will face justice themselves sooner rather than later, and get the penaltites they deserve. They have played this dictator regime long enough, time 4 turks to stand up and unite against all this evil.
Even the Prophet(saw) never denied others the right to criticize nor scrutinize him,yet it seems one can do neither with our government. This is getting very dangerous!
Wicked, contrived, unlawful by international ethics and standards, yet deportation, even in so unjust a case, may seem a blessing if there is any prospect that the AKP government may reintroduce capital punishment, and soon.
Zaynalov should be allowed to continue as a journalist, its absurd that words/references to investigation are restricted and banned and freedom of expression is being limited and violating respect for rights as agreed under UN covenants,I think you should contact the UN,reporters without borders and...
You are extremely welcome everwhere in Europe Mr. Zeynalov! We will be proud of hosting you!
AKP is a keeper of terrorists affiliates, but can't stand the free minded ones. Foreign national's leaders are skipping visiting Turkey, others canceling appointments, third refusing to negotiate talks - what RTE's AKP is thinking is happening? People are not fool, they see RTE's deeds and don't wan...
Seemingly the AKP Government estimates bribers and fraudsters like Mr. Zarab higher than poor journalists, who write about the trouth and comment it.
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