Lacy MacAuley

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a home for my pen, projects, and passions

I was detained by Turkish police

International incident anyone? Today I was detained for over two hours by police in Antalya, Turkey, for attempting to enter a public speech by President Erdoğan. I waited with security for an hour outside the event, then was brought to a local police station, where I was questioned for about an hour. Don’t worry folks, I’m free and safe now!

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A selfie in front of the spot where all the trouble began, the security checkpoint.

President Erdoğan gave a speech today at 2:30 PM at a sports arena in Antalya to mark the opening of “Expo 2016,” an international exhibition event that begins tomorrow at a giant outdoor fairground outside the city. The event was billed as free and open to the public. No tickets. No reservations. I was a bit worried about the risk of terrorism, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see a head of state like Erdoğan. I headed to the event, arriving about 30 minutes early as people began to flood in.

What happened was shocking. I approached the first security checkpoint, and the woman asked me to open my bag. I had traveled light, carrying just a small belt pouch with my camera and wallet, and another bag with my notebook, pen, and Turkish-English dictionary. The woman took out the dictionary, turned it over in her hands, and then asked (in German) what my name was. I answered. She called over another man who examined my passport, then took a photo of it. In the end, she nodded me through security.

The next security checkpoint was the problem. A woman patted me down and looked inside my bags. She took my pen (no pens allowed I guess), and then asked me for my passport. She looked at it a little while, then called over a plain-clothes security officer who examined my passport, took another photo of it, and asked me questions (“Why are you in Antalya? Are you traveling alone?”) He then walked me over to two important-looking men in important-looking black suits. After looking at my passport a bit more, they took yet another photo of it, then told me that I was not permitted to enter.

“Go,” they said. “Okay, why?” I asked. They would not give a reason, not even saying anything in Turkish. Again they said that I was not permitted to enter and told me to leave. The plain-clothes security officer walked me to the exit, past the crowds of people with their Turkish flags and scarves.

Standing outside this second security checkpoint, I stayed to watch as the general public streamed through security. You know, I had planned the whole afternoon for this, so I was in no hurry to leave. I wondered why I was barred. Were they keeping all foreign citizens out? Did I look too much like an activist? Like a terrorist? This is still a mystery to me. I did not see anyone else get asked for their ID. I saw a security officer take barely a passing glance at a woman carrying cola bottles which, had they been gas, would have been suitable for molotov cocktails. Others carried in giant water bottles. I wondered, what is this security process actually about?

I had been standing there for a few minutes when I decided to take notes on what just happened. (Luckily there were leftover pens on the ground from other hapless note-takers who were stripped of their pens.) A security guard and the same plain-clothes police officer walked over again. “What are you writing?” the officer asked. He then asked me several more questions. I was trying to struggle through a conversation in Turkish, when the guard told me to wait. She would phone another officer who spoke English.

I waited in the hot sun as the speeches began. More calls. More waiting. One more photo of my passport. Finally a friendly-looking officer bounced forward and shook hands with all of us and said, “Hello, how are you?” in English. Remaining polite, I asked simply why I was not allowed in. “They didn’t let you in because they couldn’t understand you, because of the language,” he said. I smiled and said, “You can see me. I am not dangerous. I just want to see President Erdoğan speak.” He laughed and said, “Yes I can see that.” He said that they had called President Erdoğan’s security detail. They would run my passport and then I would be allowed inside. He said that they would be here in ten or fifteen minutes.

No one from Erdoğan’s security detail ever arrived. Finally, after another half hour of waiting with the security guard and the plain-clothes officer, and more phone calls in Turkish that I did not understand, these two walked me to the edge of the security area. They shook hands with two plain-clothes officers from the local police station.

“They will bring you to the police station for passport control,” they said. I swallowed hard. “Am I being arrested?” I asked. (I quickly found the word for “arrest” in my dictionary: tutuklama.) “Yok,” was the answer. No, I was only being brought for “passport control.” I asked if I would be brought back here. They indicated that they just needed to ask a few questions, and then I would be brought back (I wasn’t). At that point, I was brought to a white, unmarked police vehicle.

I was brought to a room in the police station, I think the main office of the station manager. Four other officers were present. My attendant officer, a station manager type of officer, and two others who ran my passport information through computer systems and began looking things up about me. I asked if I could use the bathroom, and I was walked there and left inside a windowless little bathroom while the attendant officer waited just outside the door.

In between my dictionary, an officer’s phone translation app, and another officer’s fragmented English, a conversation continued along the lines of official questioning:

Why do you want to see President Erdoğan speak?
How long have you been in Turkey?
How many times have you been to Turkey?
Who are you traveling with?
What publication are you writing for?
Where are you staying?
Where do you live in the United States?
What is your US phone number?

Of course, as you, my friends and family know, my life is sort of in a transition point right now, and I’ve been working on a few little projects and mostly just living and learning. This is hard to explain to bullheaded police officers who may want to think I am a spy or something… or maybe worse, an Erdoğan critic?? But I answered their questions as well as I could.

At a certain point, after I had told the officers all about the writing I’d done while in Antalya for the G20 Summit in November, I broke down. No more Ms. Nice Lacy:

“I don’t understand why this is important. I only wanted to see the president of Turkey speak. Now I am here at a police station.”

I quickly looked at the clock. “Now it is almost 4 PM. Erdoğan is of course finished speaking. There is no speech. I want to go.”

At that point, the police officer who had been doing most of the questioning basically threw up his hands and left. They then offered me a coffee and walked me out into a little enclosed courtyard (surrounded by walls and barbed wire) while the other officers remained inside investigating me via computer.

At this point I was holding it in but felt like crying. I told the attendant officer, who had not let me get more than two meters away from him since I had gotten into the police vehicle, that I wanted to go and that I could easily walk or take a taxi. It was then painfully clear that I was being held against my will. After the officer looked something up on his translation app, I was told in English, “Okay, you must wait. These are standard operations.”

Finally, I was given back my passport. I was walked outside the front door of the police station, but still inside the security perimeter. I was hopeful that the end was near. I said, “thank you,” and shook the hand of the station manager, and said that I would just walk or take a taxi. I pointed across the street to a taxi stand with two taxis waiting. But then I was told that I was not yet free to go. I could not just be released, I had to be driven to my place of dwelling. Why? The first reason given was “Syrians. This is dangerous.” I again said that I could simply take a taxi. Then I was told several more times that I must be driven.

During the drive, the same three plain-clothes police that I had ridden with before were in an unmarked vehicle while they drove me toward the Kaleiçi area, where I am staying. Just after we had exited the station, one more plain-clothes police officer stopped us, leaned into the window, and asked “Why are you in Antalya?” I basically told him that I had answered that question about ten times already, and wasted no time telling him the short answer, in a not-very-patient tone of voice. He threw up his hands and said “Okay okay,” and left. As we drove away, another officer looked at me and offered a brief explanation: “He is boss.”

During the drive, the officers turned up electronica music while one officer hung his tattooed arm out the window, saying hello to friends he recognized. They also found time during the drive to hassle and tease a likely-homeless man who was collecting money from drivers through car windows. One officer spoke a little English and tried to chat with me about pop music and Raki (Turkish liquor), but I was not exactly in the mood to shoot the breeze. Finally, the drive was over and I made it home. The time was almost 5 PM.

Of course, I am now a bit worried that I will be a target for surveillance or other persecution by the local police. Friends here in Antalya have got my back, know the police system, and can find me if something happens, but I am still a little on edge. The police have all of my information and, well, police are prone to bad decisions, unethical behavior, and bully tactics.

This has been my little taste of “international incident” for the day. Adventures and misadventures…

Would it really have been so bad to let one small English-speaking woman in to see a politician’s speech in Turkish? (I haven’t yet looked up the speech but there is some information about it here: http://www.sabah.com.tr/…/erdogan-expo-2016-turkiyenin-en-b…)

I bet President Erdoğan didn’t have anything interesting to say anyway!

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