Activists have called the Turkish government’s decision to deport Syrian refugee Munip Ali for comments made on Twitter “unlawful,” saying his tweets were in line with freedom of speech laws.
Ali, who has been living in Turkey since 2013, was accused of “provoking the public to hatred and animosity.” His lawyer, Meral Kaban, told Arab News, “There is no evidence that he was provoking the public or inciting hatred. (His comments) are completely in line with the freedom of expression. But the provincial governorate issued a deportation decision and (moved him to) a removal center.”
On May 3, Ali shared footage of police using tear gas against members of the Furkan Foundation — an Islamist body that has been critical of the government — who were praying at a mosque in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
“This scene is neither in Palestine nor Al-Aqsa Mosque. Do you know where this embarrassing incident took place? … In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad's soldiers were doing the same thing to Muslims praying in God’s houses,” Ali tweeted.
In the same thread, he shared footage from a crowded bus heading to a congress organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “But if we go to an AKP congress, this is how it is,” he commented.
An investigation was launched, which also took into account previous tweets in which Ali drew attention to the racism that he says Syrian refugees face in Turkey, and the deportation decision was issued.
Ali — the sole provider for his family, including his sick mother — was fired from his job in a shoe-manufacturing company and has been taken to Cigli removal center in Izmir, according to Kaban.
Medical professionals have been critical of AKP’s packed party congresses, suggesting they were a major cause of Turkey’s skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates, a claim Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca dismissed as nonsense, even though several party officials contracted COVID-19 after the meetings.
Ali was not the only one outraged by the police’s treatment of worshippers at the mosque in Gaziantep. Both Islamist and secular groups have expressed their anger.
“Those who let people gather in stadiums, public transportation and factories (even during) full lockdown have prevented a small group from worshipping at a mosque,” the foundation said in a statement.
Nor is Ali the first refugee to incur the government’s wrath this year. A deportation decision was recently issued against four Iranian refugees on the grounds they “acted against public order” by joining countrywide protests against Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.
According to Kaban, such decisions are intended as a warning to other refugees to refrain from speaking out against the Turkish government.
“(Ali) has been living in the same apartment for the past four years. He was taking care of his mom. There was no justification for putting him in the removal center,” she said. “All these procedures and the trial process will take months, and he will have to stay there until then. This case is symbolic for all other refugees in Turkey to keep their freedom of expression under control and to self-censor.”
Duygu Koksal, a lawyer specializing in refugee issues, said it is unlawful to keep Syrian refugees in removal centers, especially during the pandemic.
“Removal centers are not built for keeping people who are (involved in) a criminal investigation. Deporting Syrian refugees is also against the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, (which) Turkey should abide by,” she told Arab News.