Dutch local politician stuck in Turkey on terrorism charges

by Fréderike Geerdink 

De Nederlandse versie van dit stuk staat hier. 

SULAYMANYA – Murat Memiş, chair of the Socialist Party in the local council in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, was detained in the Turkish city of Antalya on 30 April in the presence of his wife and two young children. On 3 May he was released but Turkish authorities won’t allow him to leave the country. Memiş (31), a Dutch Kurd, is suspected of membership of, recruiting for and making propaganda for a terrorist organisation, both crimes that carry considerable prison sentences. Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma has informed the local council about the matter this evening.

Since 30 April, both Jorritsma and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs have tried to convince the Turkish authorities to let Memiş return to the Netherlands. It looks like this will not happen before 1 July, the planned date of the first hearing in the case. Memiş wife and children have returned home.

Kurdish cause

The police reports, which this journalist has seen, show that the accusation against Memiş is based on posts on Facebook and Twitter. These posts are, for example, about activities in Eindhoven related to the Kurdish issue, but also concern ‘retweets’ of posts from other accounts about Kurdish issues. Memiş has been active for the Kurdish cause for years. Via Whatsapp, Memiş said: ‘I am being held in Turkey because I have, within the Dutch democratic context, used my right to freedom of expression. This detention hurts our Dutch democracy directly and is principally unacceptable.’

Memiş is one of eight or nine Dutch citizens who are suspected of involvement in terrorism in Turkey and who cannot leave the country or are in jail. At the beginning of April a Dutch-Kurdish woman from The Hague was detained and arrested and she is still imprisoned, together with her baby daughter. The accusations against her are based on her volunteer work for a Kurdish association.

Travel advice

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had adjusted the travel advice to Turkey last month. Those who travel to Turkey, especially those who also hold a Turkish passport, are warned that they can be interrogated upon arrival at the airport or elsewhere, that social media can be checked and that legal proceedings are possible. This mainly concerns passengers against whom there is ‘a suspicion of involvement in organisations that Turkey considers to be terrorist’. In practice, this means the movement of the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey holds responsible for the coup attempt in July 2016, and the armed Kurdish organisation the PKK.

Memiş said he knew about previous cases of interrogations and legal proceedings against travellers well before the travel advice was formally adjusted, and added: ‘Very naively I assumed that I could go on a holiday to Turkey without problems, just as in previous years.  Very stupid of course. I really didn’t think this could happen to me.’

Judicial proceedings

In his statement to the city council of Eindhoven, Mayor Jorritsma said that he, in cooperation with several other actors, is trying everything to get Memiş back to the Netherlands and reunited with his family and friends. He also said: ‘I will not interfere in the internal judicial process of Turkey. This means I will not get into the case further. I will leave that to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is intensely involved in this matter up to the highest levels.’ The mayor declined to answer further questions.

A spokesperson for the Ministry said in a reaction: ‘The embassy [of the Netherlands in Turkey] is in touch with those concerned and is giving assistance and support as much as necessary and possible. The Netherlands cannot interfere in the judicial proceedings but on a regular basis asks  for information on such cases from the Turkish authorities.’