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Espionage trial against lawyer at the German embassy: Turkey confiscated data on 900 asylum procedures

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When a lawyer from the German embassy in Ankara was arrested, the Turkish authorities received significantly more data on German asylum procedures than previously assumed. Worrying news for over 900 asylum seekers in Germany.

When Turkish police officers arrested the German embassy attorney Yilmaz S. in Ankara on September 19, 2019, they obtained a large amount of information on asylum procedures from him. An explosive find because the information relates to the asylum procedures of around 113 Turks seeking protection in Germany. The Turkish lawyer had been used on behalf of Germany to check the information provided by the asylum seekers on site. The Turkish public prosecutor's office accused him of espionage, among other things, and the trial against him began in Ankara in March.

As it now turns out, the extent of the incident is much larger than previously known. Around 900 inquiries from Germany with data on asylum applications are said to have got into the hands of the Turkish authorities when the lawyer was arrested. And only data from the years 2017 to 2019. That emerges from the answer of the Foreign Office (AA) to a written question from the Green MP Luise Amtsberg. According to research by LTO at least one person should be affected by each request, in some cases even several people at once, for example entire families. The lawyer of trust has worked for the German embassy for 20 years.

"I am deeply concerned about the fact that the number of victims whose data fell into the hands of the authorities in the course of the arrest of the Turkish lawyer Yilmaz S. has risen to 900," said Amtsberg LTO. "So far we only knew about 113 confirmed cases."

For example, German administrative courts and the BAMF rely on trusted lawyers abroad

In February the federal government announced that in addition to documents from the lawyer, data carriers had also been confiscated. According to information from LTO should have included at least a USB stick.

Kai Weber, Managing Director of the Lower Saxony Refugee Council, explained how the use of lawyers of trust works for LTO As explained: A judge at a German administrative court is confronted with asylum documents from a person from Turkey, which the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) considers to be untrustworthy. The judge therefore turns to the Foreign Office with a request to check the submitted evidence or statements for correctness. It can be about whether an investigation is in progress against the person in Turkey or whether there is an arrest warrant. The officials then obtained the relevant information via administrative assistance from the BAMF. Sometimes the request comes directly from the BAMF. Some of the information is then passed on by the German diplomats to the lawyers of trust working on site.

In response to a request from the Left Group in the Bundestag at the beginning of 2020, the federal government announced that "in addition to absolutely necessary information in individual cases, copies of individual documents submitted by applicants in the proceedings will be passed on to cooperation lawyers" in order to "check the authenticity of such documents." There is a lack of information about the specific data going to the lawyers of trust.

The BAMF transmits to the AA file number, personal data, place of residence in the country of origin, a summary of the facts and information on places, dates and people who are relevant for the verification. German residential addresses are not forwarded to the cooperation lawyer, according to the federal government.

Asylum seekers in Germany at risk?

For the Turks seeking protection in Germany, the information in the hands of the Turkish state could evidently pose a threat. According to information from the Lower Saxony Refugee Council at the beginning of the year, around 200 asylum seekers from Turkey in Germany are said to have been informed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in order to warn them of possible dangers from the Turkish secret service.

The Federal Government does not rule out the possibility that the Turkish security authorities could use the data they have learned about asylum seekers for further investigations and prosecution of their own. In particular, it is possible that Turkish asylum seekers could potentially come into the focus of the Turkish intelligence service MIT in Germany.

At a special meeting of the Interior Committee of the German Bundestag in November 2019, the Federal Government announced that in 45 of 47 asylum procedures that the Turkish state had become aware of through the arrest of the lawyer of trust, 18 had been granted protection status, 18 as an amendment to a previous negative decision , 27 in pending proceedings. In the opinion of the BAMF, there were only two cases where there was no risk. The federal government announced at the time that these proceedings were still in the process of litigation and were pending in the courts.

At the same time, the BAMF informed all those persons who could have received personal data as a result of the investigative measures at Yilmaz S. at the same time as the delivery of the respective asylum decision, the Federal Government said. There was no answer from the AA as to whether all of the at least 900 people affected, according to the latest findings, were informed. The BAMF referred at the request of LTO in the matter on the competence of the Foreign Office.

Amtsberg agreed LTO: "I expect that the 900 men and women who have also been targeted by the Turkish state as a result of the investigations by German authorities, if this has not already happened, will receive protection status in Germany. The courts do not have to determine this need for protection first recognize the Federal Office for Migration and Refugee immediately, said Amtsberg.

The Green MPs fundamentally criticize the practice of the lawyers of trust. The Yilmaz S. case shows that the Federal Office's disproportionate mistrust of asylum seekers and their information put the lawyer of trust and numerous other affected persons at risk and that the worldwide practice of checking data using such lawyers is fundamentally problematic.

Was the lawyer concerned about the legality of his work?

When the MPs of the Greens asked the government in February whether they or the embassy in Ankara had any indications that they might have put the lawyer in danger through their employment, the answer was tight: "No".

According to information from the Turkish public prosecutor's office, the indictment NDR otherwise emerge. In an email to an embassy employee quoted in the indictment, the lawyer Yilmaz S. allegedly expressed security concerns and asked the embassy to obtain authorization from the Turkish Foreign Ministry for his legal work for the Germans and to have powers of attorney issued by asylum seekers.

According to research by LTO In addition, some of the information that is of interest to the German courts cannot easily be obtained from databases that are publicly accessible in Turkey. In a database in which Turkish lawyers can generally view process information, proceedings related to terrorism are regularly blocked. This applies above all to proceedings against alleged supporters of the preacher Fethullah G├╝len, who the Turkish government blames for the failed coup in 2016, and alleged supporters of the banned Kurdish Workers' Party PKK. In other words, proceedings against precisely those people who are also seeking asylum in Germany because of persecution - and about whom information is therefore of interest to the German state. Cooperation with lawyers of trust in Turkey stopped The Foreign Office has stopped working with lawyers in Turkey until further notice. A press spokesman referred to a telephone request from LTO on Wednesday to the answer to Amtsberg's written question. No further information could be given.

However, the administrative courts can apparently verify information on asylum seekers from Turkey without recourse to the lawyers of trust. Learned that LTO from the judiciary. Such procedures would be processed further, for verification one would now fall back on experts with contacts in Turkey, it said.

The lawyer Yilmaz S. was released from custody in March at the start of the trial. However, an exit ban was imposed on him. The trial against him is due to continue on September 16 in Ankara.