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British MEP detained and equipment confiscated while entering Turkey

Labour MEP Julie Ward says she has notified the European Parliament that Turkish police accessed her private emails
Passengers walk at the departures section of the Istanbul Ataturk International airport (AFP)

A British Member of the European Parliament was detained by Turkish security while entering the country to attend a conference in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

Julie Ward, a Labour MEP for the North-West, was detained by security at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on Thursday while attempting to catch a connecting flight to the Kurdish-majority city, which has been the focal point of violence between Turkey and Kurdish militants in recent months.

She told Middle East Eye that she had initially asked for advice from Turkish Airlines on how to reach her hotel inside the airport where she was staying until she caught her connecting flight.

“When I spoke to the Turkish Airlines clerk at the help desk and I said I was going to Diyarbakir, he said 'What do you want to go there for? It's dangerous. You're not a journalist going to make trouble, are you?'”

Ward said she was advised that her diplomatic passport “wouldn't be worth anything” and that she should continue her travel on her British passport.

“When I went to the hotel reception desk and said my name, there were three guys standing by the reception desk and they turned out to be plainclothes policemen.”

She said she was then interrogated in the lobby of the hotel. After inspecting the schedule for the conference she was attending they took her back to the airport for further questioning.

After taking her to a security room to continue the questioning, the police confiscated her phones and iPad.

“I was asking 'what's going to happen, why are you doing this, why are you questioning me?' I was really intimidated by what was happening to me – I was also exhausted, by this time it was like 2:30 in the morning.”

Ward said that the officers accessed her private email account. She said that the iPad was the property of the European Parliament.

“I have to tell my staff that my emails have been hacked – this might be a security issue for the parliament. It was my private email which I know they definitely accessed but once they had my iPad they could have anything, my photos and my official parliamentary emails are on there.”

“So we've had to tell the European Parliament that the police in Turkey have had access.”

Although she was eventually released, Ward said she was concerned about posibly facing further interrogation when she left Turkey on Sunday. She told MEE that she planned to contact the British embassy for advice.

The conference she was travelling to attend was co-sponsored by the European Grassroots Anti-Racism Movement and Turkish Human Rights Association and was intended as a fact-finding mission in a region which has seen much turbulance since the collapse of a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in July 2015.

Turkey has been on high alert since 15 July when a military faction attempted to carry out a coup in the country. Following the failed coup attempt the government brought in a state of emergency giving the president and cabinet the ability to enact emergency legislation and allowing the security services greater powers.

Relations betwen the European Union - of which the European Parliament is one of the principle institutions - and Turkey have been tense in recent years as the EU expressed concern over increasing authoritarianism in the country.

The body has also repeatedly pushed back Turkey's application for membership of the union, frustrating Ankara.

MEE contacted the Turkish Ministry of the Interior, but a press spokesperson was not available at the weekend to comment.

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