CAUGHT IN A DRAGNET [Excerpts]
As if the hassles of international travel aren’t enough, Ryan Keating found himself flagged last October embarking on a routine flight from Turkey. For a decade the Yale University graduate and East Coast native has lived there, pursuing doctoral studies and church-based work. An officer seized his resident permit, telling him it had been canceled “for reasons of national security.”
Keating, 39, thought the disruption was a mix-up, and continued his journey, arriving in London hours later to teach for a week. But he did contact an attorney, suspecting he’d find difficulty upon his return to Turkey. His family—his wife and four children ages 6, 8, 10, and 12—had remained behind in Ankara.
“The only way to know if there was a ban on my return was to try to get back in,” Keating explained. Arriving from London at Istanbul’s Atatürk international airport, border officials escorted Keating to a small windowless room. A member of Turkey’s national security police told Keating the Interior Ministry had issued a lifetime ban barring him from ever entering Turkey again. The police seized Keating’s manual coffee grinder and coffeepot but allowed him to keep his cell phone and iPad.
In a matter of minutes, authorities had snatched from Keating hope of completing his doctoral studies along with his livelihood—years of investment to build a coffee business, a growing ministry to refugees, and a training program for young Christians. Keating was escorted to a locked waiting area and held through the night before another officer escorted him to a 7 a.m. flight back to London. He did not know when he would see his wife and children again.
Along with American pastor Andrew Brunson and several other Christian workers, Keating became a victim of draconian new laws in Turkey enacted following an attempted coup d’état last July. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency after surviving the military takeover.
Six months later, the crackdown has not eased. Besides jailing alleged opponents, Erdogan’s government is freezing bank accounts and confiscating property. After a New Year’s terrorist attack at an Istanbul nightclub claimed by Islamic State (or ISIS), Turkey’s Parliament extended the government’s state-of-emergency powers until at least May.
Those powers allow the government to rule by decree, firing public employees and detaining terrorism suspects and other purported enemies of the state for up to 30 days without charges. In an overnight parliamentary session Jan. 11, lawmakers openly brawled in the chamber, throwing chairs and punching one another, as opposition members vowed to boycott further votes to limit freedom. Changes to the constitution, also under consideration in Parliament, would increase the power of the country’s head of state permanently.
The government is using the state-of-emergency laws to tar Christians, particularly resident workers from the United States. The police officer who denied Keating’s re-entry last October “did not have any documents, anything to support the charges,” Keating said. The officer, part of the national security police terror division, held only one sheet of paper claiming Keating was a “G82 threat,” a blanket code used under the state of emergency.
[Keating’s] efforts will continue, despite his abrupt departure: “Part of our strategy from the beginning was to have long-term sustainability, because always in the back of your mind is the reality that you may have to get quickly out. We know that it’s dangerous being openly Christian.”