Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said 10 ambassadors, including those from the US and France, were “persona non grata” after they issued a statement in support of a jailed activist.
Osman Kavala, 64, is a Turkish businessman, publisher and activist who has been detained for more than four years despite having never been convicted of a crime.
He was acquitted last year in connection to nationwide protests in 2013, but then rearrested in connection with the attempted military coup in 2016.
A joint statement calling for Mr Kavala’s release was jointly issued this week by the US, France, Germany, Canada, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
“The continuing delays in his trial, including by merging different cases and creating new ones after a previous acquittal, cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system,” the statement read.
The embassies of its signatories called for a “just and speedy resolution to his case… in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws”.
“Noting the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,” it added.
The ECHR called for Mr Kavala’s immediate release two years ago, finding that there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence and accusing Turkey of detaining him for the purpose of silencing him.
The Council of Europe, the 47-member human rights body which drafted and now upholds the European Convention of Human Rights, said it would begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Mr Kavala wasn’t released.
In response to the joint statement, President Erdogan told a crowd on Saturday that the foreign ambassadors “cannot dare to come to the Turkish foreign ministry and give orders”.
He said: “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately.
“They will know and understand Turkey,” Mr Erdogan added of the ambassadors, telling the cheering crowd in the city of Eskisehir: “The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave.”
A host state may declare foreign ambassadors persona non grata (Latin for “person not welcome”) “at any time and without having to explain its decision” under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Doing so is usually a mechanism to expel the ambassador by stripping them of diplomatic immunity, but no official notification of the declaration has yet been received by the embassies involved.
Seven of the ambassadors represent fellow NATO members and their expulsion threatens to create the most significant rift between Turkey and the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power.
Six of them belong to EU members, and the European Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted: “The expulsion of ten ambassadors is a sign of the authoritarian drift of the Turkish government. We will not be intimidated. Freedom for Osman Kavala.”
A source cited by Reuters from the German foreign ministry said that the 10 countries were consulting with one another.