UK academic slams 'ridiculous' deportation from Turkey

Professor Chris Stephenson poses for a photograph in central London on March 17, 2016 (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)
Professor Chris Stephenson poses for a photograph in central London on March 17, 2016 (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)

London (AFP) - A British university professor who says he was deported from Turkey for "terrorist propaganda" told AFP on Thursday he would appeal the "ridiculous" ruling in order to be reunited with his family.

Chris Stephenson, a lecturer at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said he was put on a plane late Wednesday after turning up to court to support fellow academics charged with terror offences.

They were detained after signing a petition condemning military actions in operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"At the entry (to court) they searched my bag and found some invitations for Kurdish New Year from the People's Democratic Party, which is a legal party," the 66-year-old explained to AFP.

"I was accused by the public prosecutor of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation and taken into custody."

State news agency Anatolia reported that Stephenson was questioned by police after they found him in possession of leaflets promoting Kurdish New Year celebrations.

Britain's Foreign Office said it was providing assistance "to a British national who was arrested in Istanbul on 15 March", but did not confirm he had been deported.

The computer sciences teacher said he had become a target after signing the petition but insisted he had done nothing illegal.

"It's quite ridiculous," he said. "The invitation in my bag... it's like a postcard and was printed by the third largest party in the Turkish parliament.

"When I appeared before the prosecutor the next day, he didn't proceed with this charge and I was released but he made an administrative request to deport me, which they did. I haven't been found guilty of anything."

Stephenson has lived in Turkey for 25 years. He married a Turkish woman 19 years ago and the couple have a Turkish daughter, aged 13.

"My life is in Turkey," he explained. "We will apply to the courts to have this decision cancelled."

The three lecturers were detained on Tuesday as the country's security services crack down on Kurdish rebels following a suicide car bomb blamed on the PKK that killed 35 people in the capital Ankara on Sunday.

"I've been worried for some time that something like this might happen because the situation is getting worse in terms of freedom of expression and human rights," said Stephenson.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday stepped up his efforts to have pro-Kurdish lawmakers prosecuted while police detained eight pro-Kurdish lawyers in a dawn raid.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 demanding an independent state for Kurds. Since then the group has narrowed its demands to greater rights and autonomy.

A two-year ceasefire between the government and the PKK collapsed last year and since December, security forces have been waging a major campaign against the rebel group.