Couple named as bus drivers from Modi'in

Israelis detained for photographing Erdogan palace set to be deported — lawyer

Couple in their 40s from central Israel to appear before Istanbul court, but will likely be released and banned from country after quiet diplomatic intervention

Mordy and Natali Oknin were arrested in Turkey for photographing Erdogan's palace. (Facebook)
Mordy and Natali Oknin were arrested in Turkey for photographing Erdogan's palace. (Facebook)

An Israeli couple detained in Turkey for photographing the palace of Turkish President Recep Tayyip are to be deported to Israel on Friday, following a court hearing in Istanbul, their lawyer told Hebrew media.

The pair, both Egged bus drivers in their 40s, were arrested after the woman filmed Erdogan’s palace during a ferry ride, likely not knowing it was illegal.

They were identified by Hebrew media on Friday as Mordy and Natali Oknin, of Modiin.

They were scheduled to appear in a Turkish court on Friday at 10 a.m., where a judge is expected to order their immediate deportation back to Israel, rather than extending their remand, Hebrew media said.

Nir Yaslovitzh, the attorney representing the couple, said the court would likely release them to their hotel room to collect their belongings before the deportation proceedings, according to the Ynet news site.

They were also expected to be banned from visiting Turkey for six months, according to the lawyer.

“It was an innocent act done in good faith, as a tourist act, and not as a ‘criminal’ act that justifies such an abusive act of detention,” Yaslovitzh said in a letter to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, in which they pleaded for him to intervene.

A senior Israeli official told the Ynet news site that Jerusalem was “acting quietly” to bring about the Oknins release. The outlet earlier reported that Israeli officials feared the couple could be charged with espionage.

The case has garnered widespread attention in Israel, but has been nearly absent from Turkish media, suggesting that Ankara does not intend to pursue a criminal case or charge the pair with espionage.

Illustrative: A Turkish police officer stands guard close to the site of an apparent terror attack at the Reina nightclub, one of Istanbul’s most exclusive party spots, on January 1, 2017. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Relatives only found out that the two had been arrested when they did not return home on Tuesday as scheduled.

“These are simple and innocent people who photographed the palace from a distance. Google has better photos. It is immediately clear that there is no espionage here,” a source quoted by Ynet said.

After taking the photo, the woman had sent it to a family WhatsApp group with the caption: “Such a nice house.”

It was not clear whether the home Natali Oknin took a picture of was Erdogan’s official presidential palace or a recently unveiled extravagant summer palace, which drew widespread anger amid the mass poverty in the country.

Relatives told Hebrew media that officials were “very worried that the Turks are inflating this affair because of tensions with Israel.”

“My sister isn’t connected to any spy agency,” the woman’s sister told Channel 12 news, referring to a Turkish report last month that said 15 men who allegedly spied for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency were arrested by authorities.

“We really hope they free her as soon as possible,” the sister added. “We have been asked not to talk and to play down the incident. We were sure they would free them quickly, but now we can’t keep silent. We are worried for my sister and brother-in-law.”

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