Court approves jail sentences for 4 HDP parliamentary candidates

A Gaziantep regional court has approved jail sentences for four Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members who are also standing as parliamentary candidates in the snap elections on June 24, the Doğan news agency reported on Friday. Read the full article

Prosecutors investigate social media users for Halkbank fine posts

The Istanbul public prosecutor's office today announced the launch of an investigation into social media accounts claiming the United States had decided on the amount to fine the Turkish state-owned Halkbank for its involvement in breaking sanctions on Iran, the left-wing Birgün newspaper reported on Friday.

The prosecutor's office insisted that no such decision had been made and said that social media users claiming otherwise intended to harm Halkbank, "an important Turkish institution." 

U.S. authorities are set to punish the state-run Halkbank for breaking sanctions on Iran after the bank's former deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was sentenced to 32 months in prison by a U.S. federal court on May 17.

Atilla was found guilting of setting up mechanisms through Halkbank which allowed Iran to move its money internationally by trading gold and imaginary food exports.

Some Twitter and Facebook users this week shared posts saying that U.S. authorities had decided on the amount of the penalty, much more than $9 billion that some have been predicting. Some speculate such a fine would potentially be enough to spark a financial crisis.

The posts also claim that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has sent a delegation to the United States asking for the announcement of the verdict to be delayed until after the elections on Jun. 24.

The prosecutor’s office said today that those posts harmed the credibility and reputation of Halkbank and violated article 107 of Turkish capital markets law regulating fraud. Source

Turkey’s foreign residents vie with tightened permit rules

New rules for foreigner citizens getting a short-term non-working residence permit to remain in Turkey, introduced at a time when the screening process is also being further intensified, have left many, especially those with less Turkish, struggling to negotiate the process. A blog post by Michael Butterworth on the travel website Pilgrimaged gives details of how to negotiate one of these new obstacles – the compulsory health report, which is needed alongside private health insurance.

“After taking your information, the front desk will give you seven barcodes with the names of seven doctors attached to them (ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, internal medicine, ENT, pulmonologist, and one that I’m forgetting),” it said. “X-rays are probably the second biggest bottle neck, so I would do that immediately after giving blood.”

For another new requirement – criminal background checks – the procedure differs according to the rules of applicants’ home countries. Proof of income from abroad will also be needed , and the permits will now be for one year initially then extended by five months at a time rather than being issued annually. “On the whole, short-term residence permits will be evaluated more sensitively compared to the past,” consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers also said of the changes. Source

Is Istanbul’s airport megaproject too big?

Istanbul’s as-yet-unnamed new airport is due to be opened in October, but according to Borzou Daragahi in Foreign Policy magazine it may be too big for its own good.

The airport is just one of a string of megaprojects pledged by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in election campaigns from 2011 onwards. Erdoğan is currently campaigning to retain his position in June 24 snap elections. When the second phase is complete, it will have the capacity for 200 million passengers a year, almost double that of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, which is presently the world’s largest, and will fly to more destinations than any other airport on earth.

However, Daragahi said, many of Erdoğan’s critics believe that the airport was a poorly-planned project intended merely to boost the government’s prestige. The price of its enormous size is long walks for passengers and complex logistics that could overwhelm the project.

“It is possible in my view for an airport to get to be too big and to reach a point where there are operational negatives, prompting for example air traffic control difficulties,” Daragahi quoted David Bentley, a London-based airport analyst at the Centre for Aviation, as saying. “It is possible that such a size is actually too great for existing technologies to handle.” Source

Popular Turkish rapper arrested for ‘inciting drug use’

Turkish rapper Ezhel was arrested on May 24 on charges of inciting drug use in some of his songs, according to reports.

The 28-year-old, whose real name is Sercan İpekçioğlu, was arrested on May 24 on charges of “incitement to use drugs” after being detained in Istanbul.

The hashtag #FreeEzhel in support of the artist, whose videos have been viewed millions of times online, was among the most shared in Turkey on Twitter on the night of May 24. A controversy erupted in Turkey earlier this year when it was revealed that state broadcaster TRT had banned 208 songs from the airwaves in the past two years.

TRT defended itself, saying it was not a question of “banning artists” but respecting the law, which forbids the broadcast of content encouraging people to smoke, drink or that conveys “terrorist propaganda.” Source

Atatürk Airport to be turned into ‘people’s garden,’ says Erdoğan

The government will build a large garden called the “People’s Garden” in the area of the current Atatürk Airport, upon completion of the new airport north of Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated.

“There will be a ‘people’s garden’ in the center of the city by transforming the existing airport into a big garden. We will also have gardens, just like England, for example, has,” Erdoğan said in an interview on state broadcaster TRT on May 23.

With the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) set to launch its election manifesto on May 24, the president said it is planning to build gardens, called “people gardens,” in several cities across Turkey.

“For example, a garden will be built on the site of the old Konya stadium and the old stadium in Eskişehir,” he said, adding that the biggest of these gardens will be built in Istanbul. Source

HDP lawmaker given more than 16 years prison sentence

A Turkish regional appeals court on 23 May 2018 approved a prison sentence of 16 years and eight months handed down by a local court to Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy İdris Baluken.

HDP Diyarbakır deputy Baluken was detained on Nov. 4, 2016. He was released on Jan. 30, 2017. However, upon an appeal against his release, he was re-jailed on Feb. 17, 2018.

The regional court in Gaziantep approved the prison sentence given by a local court to Baluken, who has also been jailed pending trial for 18 months for alleged “membership in a terrorist organization.”

The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament. Read more............

Over 18,000 contraband cigarette packs seized in Turkey

Security forces seized 18,530 packs of smuggled cigarettes and arrested 7 suspects across Turkey on Wednesday, according to security sources.

The operation was conducted against smugglers in the Black Sea province of Ordu where six suspects, including two Georgian nationals, were detained and 9,500 packs of cigarettes were also seized, the source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media, said.

In central Corum province, 4,900 packs of contraband cigarettes were seized during an operation. Another suspect was arrested and 3,200 packs of smuggled cigarettes were seized when security forces stopped a car in the highway near Saricam district of southern Adana province. 

Separately, in northwestern Artvin province, police seized 930 packs of contraband cigarettes. Source

Turkish presidential palace gets special operations command - Official Gazette

The Turkish National Police is forming a Special Operations Command, to serve the Presidential Palace in Ankara, left-wing news site Gazete Duvar reported.

Citing Wednesday’s edition of the Official Gazette, the site reported that the decision for a special unit to serve at the 1,000-room imposing palace in the capital was approved in parliament on April 9.

Currently, a special commando unit works with the presidential guards to maintain the palace’s security.

Known as Ak Saray (White Palace), the structure, which cost $615 million, spans more than 150,000 sq m (1.6m sq ft) of land and was completed in 2014. Source