16 April 2014, Wednesday
Today's Zaman

Interior Ministry document shows Zeynalov deported over critical tweets

7 February 2014, Friday /TODAY'S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL
A document released by the Interior Ministry on Tuesday proves that the decision to deport Mahir Zeynalov, a Today's Zaman journalist and blogger, was made over tweets Zeynalov posted that were deemed too critical of the government, refuting another document issued by the ministry on Friday which says the journalist was ordered to leave as the result of the expiration of his residence permit.

The Interior Ministry document Today's Zaman obtained was dated Feb. 4 and states that the Prime Ministry's Coordination Center (BİMER) demanded the deportation or exclusion of Azerbaijani national Mahir Zeynalov for his “statements that are contrary to fact” and “against the state and government.”

The Interior Ministry found it appropriate to deport Zeynalov over his tweets, sent from the @MahirZeynalov_ account and targeting high-level state officials, the document states and adds: “As a result of this, a foreign national named Mahir Zeynalov, born on … and a citizen of Azerbaijan, in accordance with an order issued by the [interior] ministry dated Feb. 4, 2014, and Article 8 of Law No. 5682, has been included in the ‘Foreign nationals whose entry into our country [Turkey] has been barred' category.”

“I request that you inform our ministry upon the deportation of the foreign national, who is currently located in our country, in accordance with Article 19 of Law No. 5683,” the document, signed by Deputy Police Chief Ali Baştürk on behalf of Interior Minister Efkan Ala, reads.

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 Foreign Ministry, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the National Police Department were also informed about the Interior Ministry document, according to the official letter.

However, a document released by the Interior Ministry on Friday, in an apparent attempt to evade criticism of impinging on freedom of expression, claims that the decision to deport Zeynalov was made because his residence permit expired on Dec. 31, 2013.

The newly released document says that an attached Prime Ministry's Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM) document indicates that the foreign national was informed that his press card will not be extended, and therefore that there would have been no way for him to have extended the duration of his residence permit. It also orders the deportation of Zeynalov for allegedly working illegally.

The document released on Friday came after Zeynalov had already left for Azerbaijan and cites the reason for the deportation his lack of a work and residence permit. However, an officer from the İstanbul Police Department's Foreigners' Branch made a phone call to Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş on Thursday, one day before the document in question was released, to ask that he hand over Zeynalov or inform the police of his whereabouts.

Foreign journalists can work and obtain a residence permit in Turkey after obtaining a press visa from a Turkish embassy or consulate in their home country and a press card from the BYEGM.

Zeynalov has a residence permit valid until March 10, 2014. Zeynalov, who has held a press card for the past four years, said he applied to the BYEGM this year for the annual renewal of his press card, but he was 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.

Even if he were not employed as a journalist, he would still get the residence permit as he has been married to a Turkish woman for 15 months. According to the website of the İstanbul Police Department, foreigners married to a Turkish citizen can apply for a residence permit under that status.

Zeynalov left Turkey for Azerbaijan on Friday morning following the 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 later relocate to a third country.

A formal deportation procedure took place after Zeynalov arrived at İstanbul Atatürk Airport to board an 8:50 a.m. flight to Baku, after which he and his wife were accompanied by police to their flight.

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