Turkey deports British academic accused of terror propaganda

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 16, 2016 4:16 PM

ISTANBUL (AP) — A British scholar was deported from Turkey Wednesday after he said he was found with invitations to Kurdish New Year celebrations.

Chris Stephenson, a computer sciences lecturer at Bilgi University in Istanbul, said he was detained Tuesday at a courthouse where he had gone to support three scholars charged with making terrorism propaganda.

Stephenson told The Associated Press that security guards found Nawroz invitations in his bag and then police detained him. Speaking moments before his departure Wednesday from Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport, he told The Associated Press that there was "no offense, no trial, just an administrative decision to deport me after 25 years of residency in Turkey."

Stephenson's lawyer, Kemal Tuncaelli, said the prosecutor's office had accused Stephenson of "making terror propaganda" and that his deportation was based on an administrative decision. He said they plan to appeal.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials. Britain's Foreign Office said it was providing assistance to a British national who was arrested Tuesday and that it will "remain in close contact with local authorities."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said Turkey would "redefine" terrorism and terrorists so that legal action can be undertaken against anyone supporting terrorism -- including legislators, academics and journalists. The next day, three Turkish scholars were arrested pending trial.

Stephenson and the three Istanbul-based academics, also accused of making terrorist propaganda, were among 1,000 scholars who signed a declaration denouncing military operations against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country.

The declaration angered Erdogan and led to legal proceedings against some.

Stephenson, who is married to a Turkish national and has a 13-year-old daughter, said he was "gutted" and vehemently denied supporting terrorism. "In no way was I supporting terrorism," he told AP. "I was supporting a peaceful solution."

He said the invitations found in his bag were issued by the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party. A reference to Kurdish self-determination as well as a small picture of a barricade were deemed by the prosecutor to constitute terror propaganda, he said.

Turkey is witnessing a period of increased conflict between security forces and Kurdish rebels in the southeast, a dynamic that has contributed to increased political polarization.

Sunday's suicide bombing attack in Ankara that killed 37 people further fanned tensions. The authorities blame the attack on a female Kurdish rebel who allegedly received training in neighboring Syria.

___

Berza Simsek in Istanbul and Gregory Katz in London contributed to this report.