Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

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Suddenly in Police Custody

I was walking to passport control when it happened. Was looking at my phone looking up the details of my next flight so I don't know if he'd been standing there scanning the crowd or watched me long, but I was first aware of a young man quickly stepping into my path and then a badge being shoved into my view with the word "POLIS" emblazoned on it.  It took a second to register, especially since looking up he looked nothing like a police officer: probably just shy of 30 in a tight fitting plain white t-shirt and jeans.
"Come with me" he commanded preemptorily with a thick Turkish accent.
"Oh, uh, okay." says I after a second.

I was already a bit annoyed, in Bishkek they couldn't book me all the way through to Melbourne (though they'd done the reverse on the way in?), so in Istanbul I'd have to go through passport control (really slow in IST, can take an hour), for which if I didn't have one already I'd have had to get a visa ($20 and a short line), get my luggage, and re check in. Layover here was 6 hours and I was a bit excited because The Organization had said I could expense booking into one of the airport lounges, which I've always been too cheap to do on my own dime, BUT having to re check in required waiting in the dingy uncomfortable part of the airport outside of check in until they opened check in three hours before the flight. Ie I was doomed to a0relatively uncomfortable situation without getting to redeem the promised luxuries of the lounge.

So I was feeling annoyed already when I was plucked up by the police.  Now I've been "randomly selected" for "additional screening" plenty of times in the past and it's always been pretty obvious what was happening, as a uniformed officer explained what was happening and took me to a table or nook just at hand.  As this officer led me down a hall past other security checkpoints it seemed a bit more serious than that.

The current Turkish government is one that arrests people for their political opinions and I've posted critically of them on social media before, even at the time thinking "I hope this doesn't come back to bite me." And I've been in and out of Turkey enough that it's not implausible they've taken notice of me.

Add on top of that I'd just been watching the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies which is all about spies and suspected spies getting nabbed, and my Turkish friend Asli's dad's jokes that he suspected I was a spy suddenly was a bit of a forboding memory.

The officer led me to a small room with chairs and a desk, where we were shortly joined by another similarly dressed young man.

They went through my bag, even leading through my books, went through the pictures on my camera -- I had taken a picture just the other day of a soviet style armored personnel carrier that was half hidden in the yard across from my hotel window but other than that they'd just ad seeing donkeys and yurts. And of course asked me all the expected questions about where I'm going, where I came from, what I do.

And have I been to Turkey before? ("Yes many times"), do you know anyone in Turkey? ("Yes," for it would be hard to answer many questions about my travels in Turkey without admitting to this), "show us their contact info on your phone," I really didn't like the direction this was going but what choice did I have. "Random screening" or not it could result in trouble for my friends in a country like this. But what choice did I have? So I brought up Asli in my contact list and showed him.  In the picture that displays with her contact info she's looking beautiful and official in her snow white maritime academy uniform, with gold epaulets and an officers visor-cap, but it occurred to me that they might become even more unpleasantly interested if they thought I was in contact with a member of the Turkish navy. The policeman took out his own phone and snapped a photo of the contact info page, making me cringe inside.

He handed my phone back but a few minutes later the second man asked for my phone and went through it for awhile

While they weren't terribly polite or apologetic, at least they weren't particularly rude. It was all rather business-like. They didn't smile or joke or seen pleased or particularly displeased with anything throughout. After about twenty minutes they said I could go, and on the plus side said I could go through the diplomatic passport control line and handed me a little ticket to show there. So being as this took twenty minutes and in not exaggerating that the massive passport control line can take an hour, it at least saved me time.

I talked to Asli on whatsapp while waiting to check in to give her a heads up and she didn't seem terribly concerned. She's rather apolitical anyway, if anything being a bit supportive of the government, which sometimes frustrates me a bit but at least it's a safe position for her.

Also while I waited in the check-in area this guy who barely barely spoke English was trying to ask me questions about Israel, as far as I could tell, even though from what I could gather he didn't seem to be flying there. A short time later, past the check in as I was on my way to at least LOOK at the lounges (by the time I got in I had just enough time to grab a bite in the food court before boarding), a random girl passing me in the crowd gave me a friendly smile and enthusiastic shalom and that's when I realized I was wearing my black brimmed hat, a white collared shirt, black pants ... I've accidentally dressed like a hasidic jew!!!
Was I questioned because they thought I was Jewish?  And I felt particularly self conscious about this look when I was in Abu Dhabi, considered carrying the hat, but then decided I'd stand with the Jewish people and take what anti-semitism came my way.  As it happens I noticed if anything more random smiles than usual. I did take the hat off as I approached the security check-point just in case, I didn't feel like being randomly selected again.

And now I'm most of the way from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, over the western edge of Australia with three hours to go. Flight is very empty and I have a whole row to myself!!

Tags: air travel, asli, field reports, turkey

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