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Turkish President declares 10 diplomats persona non grata

A screenshot from video by Medyascope, March 10, 2020.

Turkey saw another weekend rocked with crisis after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he has taken steps to expel 10 diplomats — including seven of Turkey's NATO allies and major trading partners. The decision follows a statement issued on October 18, 2021, by the embassies of 10 countries on the ongoing detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala. Kavala was arrested in 2017 on questionable charges and has remained behind bars. He has yet to receive a fair trial or a guilty court ruling.

The ambassadors’ statement read:

Today marks four years since the ongoing detention of Osman Kavala began. 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.

Together, the embassies of Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release.

On Monday, October 25, the crisis was averted. All ten signatories said they maintained compliance with article 41 of the Vienna Convention. Tweeting from their official account, the US Embassy said, “In response to questions regarding the Statement of October 18, the United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

The statement was welcomed by President Erdoğan.

“These people will recognize, understand and know Turkey. The day they don't know or understand Turkey, they will leave,” President Erdoğan said at a rally on October 23 in a Turkish province of Eskişehir. The President described the statement as “impudence” declaring the diplomats “persona non grata.”

“I gave the instruction to our foreign minister and said ‘You will immediately handle the persona non grata declaration of these 10 ambassadors,'” explained President Erdoğan. A day after the statement was issued, the ten ambassadors were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and accused of “politicizing the Kavala case,” according to DW.

In response to Erdoğan's decision to expel the diplomats, the President of the European Parliament, Davis Sassoli tweeted:

“We will continue to call on Turkey to comply with democratic standards and the rule of law to which the country committed itself under the European Human Rights Convention,” the Norwegian foreign ministry's head of communications, Trude Maaseide, said in a statement.

On Monday, October 25, the crisis ended with all ten signatories who had signed the October 18 statement reiterating their commitment to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Screen shot, Vienna Convention.

The case of Osman Kavala

Kavala, a successful Turkish businessman who has supported numerous civil society initiatives in Turkey over the years, including the Open Society Foundation Turkey branch, was taken into custody on October 18, 2017. Two weeks later he was arrested on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government” over his alleged financing of Gezi Protests in 2013. He has been in a maximum-security prison since November 2017.

In February 2020, Kavala was acquitted however, hours later, he was accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt. Although he was cleared one month after this accusation, Kavala was kept in remand detention on the charge of “political or military espionage.” Then in January 2021, his acquittal in the Gezi Park trial was reversed and during the trial held in February 2021, the court ruled to combine charges leveled against Kavala in the Gezi Park trial with the 2016 coup, ruling to continue his detention. Kavala's lawyers have said, the indictment is a presumptive fiction lacking any evidence. International human rights organizations and civil society groups in Turkey have said the arrest of Kavala is politically motivated.

The embassies’ statement was issued on the four-year anniversary of Kavala's arrest, calling on the authorities to release Kavala in line with a December 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling, which favored Kavala and called on Turkey to release him. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe said on September 17, 2021, it will start infringement proceedings against Turkey at the end of November if Kavala is not released.

Kavala's next hearing is scheduled to take place on November 26 but the businessman said he won't take part in the upcoming hearing. On October 22, Kavala said, “because a just trial is not possible, I believe that from now on my attendance in hearings and my making a defense would be meaningless.”

In an interview with the AFP on the eve of his four-year imprisonment anniversary, Kavala said he is not expecting a release any time soon.

I think the real reason behind my continued detention is that it addresses the need of the government to keep alive the fiction that the Gezi Protests were the result of a foreign conspiracy. Since I am accused of being a part of this conspiracy allegedly organized by foreign powers, my release would weaken the fiction in question and this is not something that the government would like.

President Erdoğan asserts that the Gezi Protests were meant to topple him and his ruling government. Hence, calls for Kavala's release are perceived as a direct attack against him wrote journalist with BBC Turkish, Ece Göksedef.

Strained relations with the West

Turkey's relations with the West — particularly the US — soured in recent years especially as the country moved closer to Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Local experts argued that the current diplomatic rift may further alienate Turkey, a NATO member, from its Western allies. Should the expulsions take place, it would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdoğan's 19 years in power.

Some experts believed the decision to expel diplomats declaring them persona non grata was an attempt to distract from domestic politics. Marred by a financial crisis, Turkey is going through its worst economic decline in years. The depreciation of the Turkish lira against foreign currencies and the country being greylisted by the financial arm of G7 last week has placed the ruling Justice and Development Party under the spotlight.

In an interview with The New York Times, Soner Cağaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute said, “[Erdoğan] is realizing he won’t be able to turn the economy around so he will blame the West. It is a recognition that the economy is beyond repair.”

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