Turkish Airlines blacklisting critical deputy violates Constitutional right


Turkey’s flagship semi-public Turkish Airlines (THY) violated a constitutional right when it announced on Monday that it might not sell tickets to critical independent deputy Muhammet Çetin, who resigned from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in protest of the massive corruption probe that led to the resignation of four ministers in December.

THY Chairman Hamdi Topçu said during a televised interview on Monday night that his company is considering banning Çetin, who police forced to leave an aircraft on an April 11 flight from İstanbul to Chicago, despite having political immunity.

Çetin told Today’s Zaman that the company has systematically discriminated against him since his resignation from the ruling party. He explained how although all other deputies are always upgraded to business class, he has not even been allowed to buy business-class tickets as the system does not “recognize” him.

Topçu argued on TV that the deputy gave the crew hard time when a certain newspaper he asked for was not provided. THY has placed an embargo on critical newspapers such as Zaman, Today’s Zaman, Taraf and Sözcü for the past few months. Çetin said the manager of a leading private company, Murat Seyhan of Opet Petroleum, asked for copies of Taraf and Sözcü, but that he was the only one on the plane declared a “threat” and forced to leave the aircraft.

According to Çetin, the THY is trying to create the impression that he avoided buying a business-class ticket, but in reality what they have been doing is in violation of his constitutional rights.

A lawyer, who requested to remain anonymous due to a pending legal case against the THY, told Today’s Zaman that the company — which is 49 percent publicly owned — has violated Article 23 of the Constitution, which grants all citizens the freedom to travel. “We have never seen THY blacklist anyone before,” the lawyer said, adding that when viewed from the outside, the case seems like an attempt to punish the deputy. “This company has the Turkish national flag on its emblem; furthermore, there are destinations to which only THY flies, and one cannot prevent a citizen from flying with the national airline,” the lawyer pointed out.

When Today’s Zaman contacted Ali Genç, THY’s media relations counselor, and asked about the argument of violations against the Constitution, he said that Topçu had already said everything and he could not comment further.

Although Topçu said THY upgrades deputies’ tickets, unless it is not legally obliged to do so anymore, the tradition of upgrading those tickets will continue.

Çetin says THY does not accurately report incidents to avoid legal action, but that he has opened two lawsuits against Topçu. One of the lawsuits was opened for violating Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 122 regarding hatred and discrimination. Although Çetin is considering taking his case to Star Alliance and European courts, he said he would wait and first exhaust all legal venues in Turkey.

On Feb. 27, Çetin was told that he would not be allowed to board a flight to Pakistan, even though had not requested an upgrade; he then had to buy a new ticket. Later, THY said he had been removed from the “upgrade list” for deputies due to his criticisms of the company. Çetin says that the cabin crew and THY officials told him to fill in a complaint form regarding the lack of certain newspapers on the plane, but he has not received any feedback since doing so.

In a second incident on April 11, Çetin was announced as a “dangerous passenger” when he wanted to swap seats with a friend who had bought a business-class ticket on a flight to Chicago. “My friend asked in advance whether he could give the seat to me and he was told yes,” Çetin noted. He said that a number of other passengers, such as couples, had changed seats and the cabin crew did not appear to have any issue with those individuals.

“They told the police officers to get me off the plane no matter what,” Çetin said, adding that when giving the orders, the police officers did not even care about his immunity or even basic rules of courtesy.

“Why me?” asked Çetin in reaction to the announcement made on the aircraft claiming that he was a threat to security. “I called the American consulate later on to ask whether I constitute a threat to anyone,” he said.

According to Çetin, the reason behind this discrimination and violation of his constitutional rights is the government’s desire to show him who the “boss” is. The discrimination against Çetin also violates consumer rights, according to experts. The acting president of the Consumers Association (TÜDER), Aydın Ağaoğlu, told Today’s Zaman that Article 5 of Law No. 4078 prohibits the refusal of sales or services to an individual without a valid reason. The transportation services provided by THY cannot be restricted for any citizen if the ticket fare is paid and the passenger is not a criminal, added Ağaoğlu. He further explained that any customer whose rights are violated can sue THY to be compensated for tangible and intangible losses.

In addition, there have been speculations that THY has not been allowing the tickets to be purchased with credit cards from Bank Asya, which is affiliated with the Hizmet movement and which the government allegedly tried to force into bankruptcy.