Ali Bizden, the press and communications coordinator of former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, was banned from entering Turkey for five years on charges of acting against the country’s national security.
Bizden was informed of the ban by immigration police in Turkey on Tuesday night after he sought to pass through passport control at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport. The ban had been ordered back in September last year, he said via social media on Wednesday.
“Equality and freedom are the most natural existential rights of every society, every people and every nation,” Bizden said. Possessing this belief as a person in northern Cyprus or even being close to those who share it now comes at a price, he added.
Akıncı was elected president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a state recognised only by Turkey, in April 2015. He pursued a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation for the island, in line with a United Nations’ mandate to end a division in place since a Turkish military intervention in 1974. He also sought equality in relations with Turkey. Both stances put him at loggerheads with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In October, Akıncı narrowly lost presidential elections to former prime minister Ersin Tatar. Tatar benefitted from the staunch backing of Ankara, and has subsequently mirrored Turkey’s new policy of calling for a two-state solution to the Cyprus problem.
After Bizden’s flight landed in Istanbul, he said he was ushered into a room and held there for 11 hours. His ID card, phone and bags were confiscated. He was then deported back to northern Cyprus.
“For what reason? Because for 4.5 years, I worked as a contracted civil servant in the TRNC presidency as communications adviser to President Akıncı, who was elected to the office by the vote of 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots,” Bizden said.
“I am very sorry for the pitiful level that the Republic of Turkey has sunk to in its perception of a threat to national security,” he said.
A report detailing allegations of Turkish interference in the presidential elections, including alleged threats by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) against Akıncı, was released in June by a group of academics, politicians, activists, and lawyers calling themselves the ‘We Are Reporting Group’.
The group said it found clear evidence of Turkish meddling in the vote, calling into question the legitimacy of the result.
“My family and I have received death threats and I have been the target of various smear campaigns and troll attacks,” Akıncı told the researchers. He said those threats included Turkish intelligence agents telling him to withdraw his candidacy “for the sake of his family”.
The refusal of Turkish officials to allow Bizden to enter the country sparked criticism from opposition politicians on the island, including Akıncı.
“This is disgraceful and I strongly condemn this anti-democratic bullying against Bizden, whose only crime was being a close colleague of mine,” Akıncı said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
“I invite all segments of our society and organisations to raise their voices against this ugliness,” he said.
Tufan Erhürman, the leader of the main opposition Republican Turkish Party (CTP) said that the entry ban was issued on the basis of “abstract” security concerns and was unacceptable.
“Democracy and freedom of thought are indispensable basic principles for the Turkish Cypriot people,” Erhürman said on social media.
“In the past, we have experienced bad and hurtful examples where Turkish passports of some Turkish Cypriot politicians were cancelled due to criticism of Turkey’s policies,” said Kudret Özersay, the head of the second-largest opposition People’s Party (HP).
“If now the practice of banning them from entering the country has also been added to the list, the situation would and should disturb everyone who cares about democracy and relations with Turkey,” he said.