Turkish despair: The stripping of Turkish citizenship by the state

Amal de Chickera, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
/ 4 mins read

Imagine your day being interrupted by a call from an old friend from home. You are delighted to hear his voice, and inquiries about mutual friends come gushing to the forefront of your mind. But he interrupts your happy inner conversation. "You and your wife are on a list," he says. "You have been accused of serious crimes. If you don’t return, you will be stripped of your nationality." What happens next is a blur. You feel lightheaded. You hang up. But the words keep playing on your mind. Over and over again. "Stripped of your nationality." "No longer a citizen." "Stateless."

You tell your wife. You both feel trapped. You have been charged with a crime but haven't been told what it is. No doubt they claim it has something to do with the attempted coup d’état of a year ago. But you have been busy teaching and studying abroad, keeping your head down, raising your family. Now you face two impossible options. Either return to Turkey to try and preserve your citizenship, risking the very real threat of torture and arbitrary detention as well as an unfair trial and potential life sentence. Or remain abroad, where you will lose your citizenship while in exile, making it impossible for you to renew your visa and continue to work, study or travel elsewhere. You will immediately become dependent on the generosity of your country of sojourn.

You are helpless.

This is the impossible choice confronting 130 Turkish citizens today, with a real risk that the number will grow exponentially. They have all been issued summons pursuant to Decree 680, through which the Turkish government has given itself the authority to strip its own citizens of their nationality, simply for not showing up for a criminal investigation.

Last year an attempted coup in Turkey failed. The authorities reacted with violence and vindictiveness. Under the cloak of a state of emergency, an extreme purge is being carried out against those the state claims were connected to the coup; those who are associated with dissident or minority groups. There have been many accounts of the over 100,000 people affected -- removed from their jobs, arrested, detained, tortured.

While Turkish citizens at home are easier targets, the government also has set its sights on those living abroad, making little distinction between those who fled after the coup and those who have been expats for many years. Six months after the coup d’état on 6 January 2017, Decree (KHK) 680 was published, establishing procedures for the deprivation of nationality for Turkish citizens living outside Turkey. Under the decree, those declared as being under investigation for certain crimes -- 'Offences against National Security' and 'Offences against the Constitutional Order and Operation of Constitutional Rules' -- are given a three-month window to return to Turkey and surrender themselves for investigation. Those who fail to do so will lose their citizenship, with no right of appeal. It is important to reiterate that those affected are merely under investigation for these purported crimes, and have not been convicted. With many of these individuals not holding a second nationality, they will be rendered stateless, citizens of nowhere.

There have also been reports of abuses by consular authorities against Turkish citizens living abroad, including the cancellation and confiscation of passports, the refusal to extend the validity of passports, and the refusal to provide national identity cards or passports to children born to Turkish citizens abroad. Some of the victims of these acts, who contacted my organisation the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, spoke of how their own passports were confiscated when they approached the consulate to register the births of their children. The thought of reaching out to your own country to recognise your child as a national, only to have them confiscate your own documents, is a chilling reminder of the power that states can wield against their own citizens, often with impunity.

The Institute published a policy brief earlier this week, which sets out the ways in which the actions of the Turkish authorities contravene their obligations under international law, and amount to arbitrary deprivation of nationality. For many of those who have been in contact with us, the most difficult thing to process is the impact this will have on their children. The fact that their child will be deprived of nationality and all related rights, purely due to their own alleged actions and associations. Looking at the hardship and uncertainty faced by the millions of stateless adults and children around the world, they are right to worry.

Citizenship should never be a weapon, but Decree 680 has turned it into a most violent and indiscriminate one, which can permanently scar thousands if not reversed.

This blog was first published by Thomson Reuters Foundation News on Friday 21 July 2017

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