Ismail Mesut Sezgin
Turkish opposition political commentator
Ismail Mesut Sezgin, Turkish opposition political commentator, research assistant at Regent’s Park College and self-employed business owner in the UK. Mr. Sezgin became a victim of abuse of AML/CFT mechanisms in 2021 when he was listed by the Turkish authorities among the FETO members, resulting in his assets being frozen and severely affecting his relations with financial institutions in European countries as well.
Testimonial of Ismail Mesut Sezgin:
I believe that my case is a good example of transnational repressions and how regimes like one in Turkey can destroy lives of those who dare to speak up against them. At the end of the day, authoritarian regimes can reach even those who are in the EU and other democracies like the UK by abusing existing international institutions and regulations.
First problems with the government of Turkey I experienced back in 2016, after a failed coup attempt in Turkey. Although I lived in the UK, I wrote my Ph.D. at Leed Beckett University on the Hizmet Movement. So, naturally, after the coup, I wrote publicly and spoke about it on numerous occasions on this very crucial topic. I published YouTube videos on understanding how the coup attempt was unfolded and what was happening in Turkey. I even was invited to BBC HardTalk to talk about this very topic.
Obviously, it backfired. First in Turkey. Shortly, my YouTube channel as well as Twitter account were blocked by Turkish authorities. New accounts which I had opened to circumvent being blocked were also blocked shortly after they gained momentum. Patreon is a membership platform that provides business tools for content creators to run a subscription service and get financial support from their audiences. My Patreon account was also blocked in Turkey.
There have been credible reports that Turkey misuse the Interpol by reporting its dissidents’ passports as stolen to disrupt their movements and potentially to get them deported back to Turkey. For this reason, I stopped travelling internationally even within the European Union’s border, which was the legal advice I received at the time. I have not travelled until I received my UK Passport.
However, the worst was yet to come.
On 21 December 2021, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a presidential decree in which I was enlisted as a member of what the Turkish government define as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation” (FETO). To fight any dissent, the regime in Turkey routinely labels innocent people as terrorists. As a result, my assets in Turkey were frozen and seized and my name was put in a financial blacklist internationally without any due process.
The decree has had a detrimental effect on my business and has caused immense stress. Every financial institution, even in the West, in the UK, started treating me as if I were a terrorist. The fact that my name has been added to a Turkish terror list destroyed by financial situation, and subsequently, my business and my well-being.
Every credit agency company relies on such lists in assessing a person’s financial credibility. In November 2021, the Wise blocked the business account I created for the Centre for Hizmet Studies in the UK as soon as I opened. I provided them with the documents they requested and answered their questions, but they did not respond positively nor explained the reason for blocking the account. The compliance was not engaging in any discussion, nor giving me any chance to appeal their decision. And the same situation persisted.
In January, 2022 the Western Union started flagging by transactions both business and personal. Despite the fact that I again provided the documents they requested; my account was blocked. I, therefore, can no longer be able to send or receive money for business or personal via Western Union. My regular business banking choice in the UK, the Barclays Bank has started asking additional, not typical questions with respect to my every ordinary business transaction, causing unreasonable delays in banking services, which negatively affected my business.
In September 2022, I made a lease application for a car but the application was held up. The leasing company did not even respond to my enquiries. The same month, I had a meeting with the TSB Bank to enquire about a possible mortgage. The mortgage expert said she would look into my case in the light of the notes in my report but admitted that it would be very difficult to process a successful application in my case. So, right now, I cannot continue with my studies, work as a self-employed entrepreneur, and have access to regular financial products as a loan or a mortgage.
I have to add that the situation is even worse for those who are in Turkey. Any financial support from European countries/other democracies is impossible for families of political prisoners and blacklisted activists in Turkey. People that the Turkish government has designated us as “terrorists” and put on a blacklist cannot send or receive money from or to their families and friends in Turkey. This is exacerbated by the fact that some people in Turkey have also been banned from banking in Turkey. More importantly, any financial interactions whether it is for business or providing financial support with those the Turkish government accuses of being a member of a terror organisation can and are being used as an evidence in itself of being a member of such organisation. Most recently, around 750 people were arrested in December 2022 on the grounds of providing help and financial support for family members of the jailed in Turkey. The operation was carried out by the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (KOM), the Counterterrorism Bureau (TEM) and the Cybercrime Department in coordination with the Security General Directorate’s intelligence unit and the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). Those people did not commit any financial crimes, but they are treated as terrorists, smugglers and money launderers. And the western financial institutions treat them as such as well.