The Maltese authorities refused to give a travel visa to the one-year-old baby and husband of Turkish journalist Pelin Ünker because they couldn’t prove they wouldn’t overstay their visa and stay here illegally.
A document seen by Lovin Malta shows that the Embassy of Malta in Ankara, Turkey had refused them a visa because: “Your intention to leave the territory of the member state before the expiry of the visa could not be ascertained”.
This essentially means that the immigration authorities feared that their application for a travel visa was merely a cover masking their true intentions to remain in Malta. This is despite her husband having worked as an accountant for a Turkish newspaper for the past 13 years, meaning he has a long-term job to return to.
Ünker hit the international news earlier this year when a Turkish court sentenced her to 13 months in prison after finding her guilty of defamation and insult for writing about Maltese companies owned by former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. Ünker has appealed this decision and her case has drawn widespread sympathy from journalists and press freedom organisations.
She was invited to Malta this weekend to address a protest vigil marking seventeen months since the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and was originally supposed to spend a weekend here – arriving with her family on Friday and leaving on Monday.
Pelin Ünker with PN MEP David Casa. Photo: Facebook
A spokesperson for PN MEP David Casa, who has taken on Ünker’s cause, said that their return flights were booked and their hotel room reserved. Moreover, Casa himself told Identity Malta and the Malta embassy in Turkey that he was personally taking responsibility for them and will guarantee they will return to Turkey on Monday.
However, while the Maltese authorities granted Ünker a visa, they denied it to her husband and baby, with the foreign affairs ministry arguing that this was down to a previous decision by another Schengen member state.
“Their authorities rejected similar applications by the same individuals,” the ministry said. “The application was treated in accordance with standard procedures.”
Pelin Ünker will address a vigil to mark 17 months since the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Indeed, a few weeks ago, Ünker and her family were set to travel to Switzerland , where the Turkish journalist was set to address a conference by the human rights organisation Article 19.
However, their passports were stolen in a home burglary and they had to re-apply for new ones. This hindered their Swiss visa application process, with the consulate arguing that they couldn’t see their visa history.
Following pressure from Casa and the Committee to Protect Journalists to speed up the process so as to allow Ünker to address the conference, the journalist and her baby were granted a travel visa but her husband was denied one. The baby didn’t travel to Switzerland though because Ünker needed her husband to babysit him.
Despite these frustrating hurdles, Ünker will still travel to Malta to address the vigil but she will now arrive on Saturday morning and leave that same evening.
Concerning decision by #Malta to refuse a visa to @pelinunker ‘s infant child. While Pelin will still travel to Malta, the denial of visas can be a de facto act of censorship, preventing the public’s right to be informed by foreign journalists https://t.co/D2Ih0ddnbW [1/3]
— Sarah Clarke (@Sarah_M_Clarke) March 13, 2019
Article 19 Europe head Sarah Clarke warned that Malta is effectively punishing Ünker for having a baby.
“Visa issues routinely prevent journalists from speaking at events,” she told Lovin Malta. “This is a woman who is being discriminated against because she cannot be separated from her child for more than a couple of hours. It’s not like she’s bringing a group of teens over…it’s a baby.”
“I understand there’s an administrative issue around fear they could claim asylum but that is not a fair legal position for the authorities to take. If they understand the level of fear and pressure these people are under, they should do everything to ensure that they’re still given a voice.
“You can’t take this pre-emptive administrative approach and prevent anyone who might claim asylum from coming to Malta. There’s also a clear hypocrisy between Malta refusing a visa to Pelin’s family but granting a visa to thousands of Libyans and Turks.”
“There is a clear public interest for Pelin to come to Malta but this contingent on her child coming with her and her husband taking care of the child. These aren’t arbitrary requests but her needs, and it’s worrying that Malta, a country which she has reported on, would deny a visa to her 1-year-old.”
“Malta often says it is so strong on family values so why is it doing this? This is an insight into a really big problem, which is the non-issuance of visas for journalists from countries that are considered potential sources of refugees.”
“What sort of value system is this? You’re not supposed to prohibit people from entering a country because they might claim asylum, especially when they’re being persecuted for their writings.”
— Adrian Delia (@adriandeliapn) March 13, 2019
Opposition leader Adrian Delia has also weighed in on this case, lambasting the Maltese authorities’ decision to deny a travel visa to a one-year-old baby as “shameful”.