Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he had ordered his government’s foreign ministry to declare 10 ambassadors from Western countries “persona non grata” shortly after their embassies called for the release of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and civil society activist. Although it wasn’t immediately clear whether Turkey would expel the ambassadors, with Erdogan only saying that he wanted the declaration that made clear the ambassadors are not welcome “as soon as possible.” If the diplomatic envoys are expelled, it would “mark the deepest diplomatic rift with the West during Erdogan’s 19 years in power,” reports Reuters.
Erdogan issued the threat five days after the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, and the United States signed a joint statement calling for the “urgent release” of Kavala. The activist has been behind bars for four years, facing accusations that he financed nationwide protests in 2013 and he was involved in a failed coup in 2016. Kavala has denied the charges and continues to be detained as his trial faces numerous delays. Rights groups have said Kavala’s case exemplifies the way Erdogan has worked to crush dissenting voices.
The diplomatic envoys of the countries that signed on to the statement were summoned by the foreign ministry that called the move irresponsible. Erdogan said Saturday he wanted to go further to send a clear message. “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,” Erdogan said in a speech. “They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave.”
An opposition leader immediately characterized the move as an effort by Erdogan to take attention away from his country’s economic woes. “These actions are not to protect the national interests, but to create artificial reasons for the economy that he has destroyed,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), wrote on Twitter.