Suspending visa services in Turkey 'saddening,' US Ambassador Bass says
The decision to halt visa services in Turkey was taken with "great sadness," the United States Ambassador to Ankara John Bass said in a statement released late Monday.
The decision to halt visas came after Metin Topuz, an employee of the U.S.' Istanbul Consulate General, was arrested over suspicions of supporting and/or being a member of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
"We realize that the suspension of visa services will bring inconvenience to people. We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can't predict how long it will take to resolve the matter," the diplomat said.
"Now this suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens. It's a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications," Bass added, also pointing to the fact that Turkish citizens can apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey.
Touching upon Topuz's arrest, he said: "Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for his arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee."
"The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens. Furthermore, our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney," he said.
He went on to say that the primary duty of Topuz was "strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey."
Topuz has been linked to a number of FETÖ suspects, including police commissioners and former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, a fugitive accused of attempting to overthrow the government through the use of force. He is charged with espionage and violating the constitutional order, a terrorism charge.
"Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity," Bass alleged.
Adding that the arrest may have been carried out in order to "disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States" by "some officials," he stated that this would "put the people who work with, and work at, and visit our diplomatic facilities at risk."
"Our local staff members are Turkish citizens, and we, of course, expect them to observe Turkish law like any other citizen of the Republic. They have a right to expect Turkish authorities will provide appropriate legal protections and due process," Bass said, pointing to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said Sunday that all non-immigrant visa services in its diplomatic missions in Turkey are heretofore suspended after the arrest of one of its employees over suspected Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) ties.
An embassy statement said: "Recent events have forced the U.S. government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of the U.S. Mission facilities and personnel."
The statement said the suspension, effective immediately, is intended to minimize the number of visitors to the consulate and embassy buildings.
Hours after the U.S. decision, Ankara said it halted the processing of visa applications from the U.S. The move, announced online by the Turkish embassy in Washington, applies to visas in passports, electronic visas and visas at borders, and is effective immediately.