Germany warns travelers to Turkey over legal action on VPN use

With thousands of websites now inaccessible in Turkey, its citizens and foreigners have been driven toward VPNs for free access to the internet. (Reuters/File)
Updated 27 November 2019

Germany warns travelers to Turkey over legal action on VPN use

  • Digital networks are being ‘strictly monitored by Ankara to control flow of information’

ISTANBUL: Germany has warned its citizens traveling to Turkey that they could face legal action for using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the country.

In the first-ever formal warning on the issue from such a high government level, the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs cautioned that the digital networks were strictly monitored by the Turkish government to control the flow of information.

The alert is likely to prompt travelers from other countries to be aware of the potential legal consequences of using VPNs.

With hundreds of thousands of websites now inaccessible in Turkey, its citizens and foreigners have been driven toward VPNs for free access to the internet. But the use of a VPN connection can turn some people into a person of interest in the eyes of law enforcement agencies.

“Do not sign any documents that you do not understand. Request a lawyer. Keep your ID on your person. Be open to cooperation while at security checkpoints,” the German ministry said in a statement.

Its updated warning noted that German citizens who had been active in Kurdish organizations in Germany were being detained in Turkey and it issued a reminder that insulting the president (of Turkey) or terror charges carried heavy sentences.

Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria also prompted Germany to update its travel safety advice on eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, while it cautioned against visiting the country’s major cities where potential terror group attacks could target foreign nationals.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey’s recent military incursion into northern Syria also prompted Germany to update its travel safety advice on eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, while it cautioned against visiting the country’s major cities where potential terror group attacks could target foreign nationals.

• The warning coincided with the latest row between Berlin and Ankara over the detention of a lawyer who had been working on asylum cases in the German Embassy in the Turkish capital.

The warning coincided with the latest row between Berlin and Ankara over the detention of a lawyer who had been working on asylum cases in the German Embassy in the Turkish capital.

German officials have slammed the move as a “violation” of diplomatic conventions and urged for the release of the lawyer who was in charge of Turkish citizens seeking asylum in Germany. But Ankara has accused him of espionage.

Meanwhile, Turkey recently deported a number of German citizens with suspected ties to Daesh.

Isik Mater, a digital rights activist, told Arab News that nobody had so far been punished just for using VPNs, but the use of such internet tools had been among the political reasons for going after some foreigners.

The year-long incarceration of German-Turkish correspondent Deniz Yucel, of Die Welt, over espionage and terrorism charges brought Ankara and Berlin to the brink of a diplomatic crisis last year. He was released after intense political negotiations.

Mater, who is also the research director at media freedom watchdog Turkey Blocks, said internet service providers were able to detect the moment a person connected to a VPN, but could not reach the website the person clicked on.

“The only way the public authorities obtain personal information about people using the VPNs is through contacting the company which provides VPN services. But again, this means there is a political motive behind it,” she added.

Turkey Blocks regularly monitors internet censorship and blackout cases in Turkey. The group also reveals signs of interference and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure using real-time measurement techniques.


Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

Updated 20 February 2020

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

  • Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke charged with accepting bribes, among others
  • Al-Khelaifi charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari football and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an “amicable agreement” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to €1.8 million ($1.94 million).

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling €1.25 million to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League to favor elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.

Al-Khelaifi has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.