Turkey, World, Europe

Europe banned Turkish Yes campaigners in referendum

Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria permitted campaigning for vote against constitutional changes in Turkey

Europe banned Turkish Yes campaigners in referendum


Campaigning in Europe for the recent constitutional referendum in Turkey was marked by controversy as Turkish ministers in favor of the proposed changes were prevented from giving speeches.

Members of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party repeatedly complained that EU governments displayed a bias towards those campaigning against the proposals, which centered on switching from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

According to evidence gathered by Anadolu Agency correspondents across Europe, at least 25 Yes campaign events were banned in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Belgium.

The same countries allowed No campaigners to hold rallies, some attended by supporters of the PKK, a banned terrorist organization in the EU, as well as representatives of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The bans affected events where members of the Justice and Development (AK) Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had intended to participate.

The Netherlands in particular earned the ire of Yes campaigners by refusing to grant permission for Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane to land ahead of a speaking engagement in Rotterdam on March 11.

Later, Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya was prevented from entering the city’s Turkish consulate and was then escorted to the German border by Dutch police.

The incident sparked protests by Turkish-Dutch supporters who were subjected to dog and baton attacks by police.

However, days later the Dutch authorities allowed a No rally to take place that included Tugba Hezer Ozturk, a HDP lawmaker wanted in Turkey.

A month earlier, Metin Feyzioglu, president of the Turkish Bar Association, held a meeting at a Rotterdam hotel to push for a No vote.

He was accompanied by Keklik Yucel, a lawmaker from the Labor Party, the junior party in the then Dutch government.

In Germany, home to the largest Turkish diaspora, local authorities banned several Yes rallies on security grounds but allowed No meetings. 

Permission revoked

In early March, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s planned meeting with Turkish community members in the southern town of Gaggenau was cancelled after local authorities revoked permission at short notice.

Gaggenau council claimed the venue lacked adequate facilities and did not have sufficient car parking.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci’s planned events in North Rhine-Westphalia were also cancelled after local authorities intervened and venue managers reneged on agreements.

Cavusoglu was not allowed to give a speech in Hamburg and could only hold a meeting at the city’s Turkish consulate building on March 8.

He later criticised the German authorities for pressuring the owners of conference halls in Hamburg into refusing him a place to address supporters.

On March 14, Saarland imposed a general ban on Turkish political rallies. This was followed by a ban on political activity by a senior AK Party official in Lower Saxony.

Mehdi Eker, the party’s deputy chairman, had planned a two-day visit to Hannover to meet Turkish expatriates.

Ahead of the April 16 referendum, German authorities blocked nearly two dozen planned rallies by politicians in favor of constitutional change in Turkey.

Among the No campaign events held in Germany during the run-up to the vote was a 9,000-strong march in Frankfurt on March 19, during which PKK posters and flags were openly displayed despite a federal ban on the use of terrorist symbols in public places.

These included images of the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, whose picture was identified by the Interior Ministry on March 2 in an updated list of prohibited PKK symbols.

In Belgium, two MHP meetings in Antwerp city were cancelled by the city’s mayor over security concerns.

However, on March 20 a No campaign event was held amid Newroz spring celebrations. 

Security concerns

Another event featuring Casvusoglu -- this time in Switzerland -- was cancelled by hotel management in early March.

On March 23, the minister met Turkish NGOs, accompanied by Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.

Earlier that month, AK Party lawmaker Hursit Yildirim had intended to attend a Yes event in Aaargau canton before police cancelled it for security reasons.

Swiss police cancelled a March 18 event in Basel to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of the World War I Gallipoli campaign, saying it could disrupt public order.

Former Energy Minister Taner Yildiz was barred from a book introduction program on March 10 in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg after the municipality said it was concerned about political speeches.

Austria also cancelled three meetings planned by AK Party lawmaker Muhammet Mufit Aydin in Linz, Herzogenburg and Wiener Neustadt over security concerns.

Fellow AK Party deputy Yusuf Basar’s program in Vienna, planned for March 12, had to be abandoned after a venue could not be found.

Another ruling party lawmaker, Resat Petek, was forced to hold his speaking program in a restaurant. The restaurant owner was later investigated by police.

Singer Ugur Isilak, a former AK Party lawmaker, had planned to hold a concert in Austria on March 25 but this was cancelled due to a lack of venue.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz perhaps set the tone on Feb. 27 when he said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not welcome to campaign in Austria.

Despite this, No campaigners were free to operate in Austria. CHP Deputy Chairman Levent Gok paid a two-day visit to Vienna as part of his campaigning efforts, meeting parliamentary officials, business figures and civil society representatives.

HDP lawmaker Faysal Sariyildiz, who is wanted in Turkey, made a speech in the Ternitz region in February.

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