I am Emir Onur Çilek Romano;
I was born in 1983 in Istanbul, Turkey. My parents, an upper middle-class family, sent me from age 14 to a Richmond, UK school. Later, I attended high school in Salzburg, Austria. On my senior year of high school, I have relocated to Miami/FL, USA for my undergrad studies.
In 2003, aged 20, I was running the youth committee of an NGO named Florida Turkish-American Association. I was falsely accused of sexual battery. In a couple of weeks it was followed by the accuser's 'honour' killing by a Turkish/Kurdish family in Miami/FL. After a couple of weeks of investigation the charges against me were dropped and the case was dismissed in FL/USA due to lack of admissible evidence. It went on record as a suicide.
Turkish jurisdiction in USA:
A special Turkish law code gives Turkey jurisdiction over the matters that happen between two Turkish citizens anywhere in the world. The Kurdish victim and I were both citizens of Turkey. In 2004, Republic of Turkey decided to reopen the same case this time in the Turkish Justice System and asked USA for the case file and my extradition.
In 2005, USA has extradited me to Turkey with certain conditions. I was detained for 6 months in US custody during that extradition period. And then I was detained for another 6 months in Turkey before I was released. During that time the conditions which USA extradited me with, were all violated by the Turkish Justice System.
The second acquittal:
In 2010, in the light of all the material evidence (the details in the addendum below), the Turkish court found me Not Guilty of rape. So, now I was cleared both, in the USA and in Turkey. I will keep the rest as brief as possible giving mostly the legal timeline rather than detailed narrative. In conclusion, I was wrongly accused and charged with sexual battery in Miami/FL. A couple weeks later, all charges were dropped in Florida. (the actual story of the case in detail can be found in the Addendum#1 below).
A life-long mission:
Later on, I chose to become a scholar and an activist. I was a non-believer since 16 years of, but I became a militant atheist as I had time to read while I was being detained in USA and in Turkey. I always volunteered to work in the libraries of the detention centers and tried to make the most out of my time by researching.
From 2008 to 2011, I was crucified by the Turkish media for a new reason every other year. I was also being harassed by the Turkish justice system with many political and other charges. It was like all my actions were being monitored. I have spent a fortune on lawyer fees and surprisingly, I have beaten most [of them]. (the actual summary of the cases in detail can be found in the Addendum#2).
I have been working full-time in human rights advocacy as an atheist activist for over a decade now. I used to be a dedicated secular political activist until when we lost 8 followers at Taksim Gezi Protests in 2013. After that event, my activism took a turn into atheist activism. In 2013, I was among those organizing the biggest secular resistance protest in the history of Turkey (Taksim Gezi Protests). Control of the Istanbul city centre was seized from government forces for 27 days straight. Over 1.5 million people were involved just in Istanbul. According to the Turkish police records; there were 4900 actions organized in 80 provinces of Turkey, during that time supporting our Gezi Park resistance movement. Around 4 million supporters showed up in solidarity in over 80 provinces of Turkey.
From 2012 to 2015 I helped to form 3 atheist organizations in Turkey, one of them being the first and only legally recognized atheist NGO of Turkey and among the Muslim majority countries with EU and UN Special Consultative Status through our partners.
In December 2015, Turkish police made a raid to our atheist NGO headquarters in Turkey looking for me in respect of a number of political and blasphemy investigations and charges. Lawyers told me that I would be most likely detained for a long time if arrested. In short, they advised me to run if I can.
In 2016, I participated in organizing of the first atheist group of the Republic of Georgia, Caucasus. Since then, I have been working on establishing the first-ever atheist organizations in the various developing countries of the Middle East. My goal is to help Middle Easterners to form and establish the first secular/atheist/humanist NGOs of their countries -in 5 countries where atheism is not punishable by death-. It was successful in Turkey and Georgia. Now is the turn of Azerbaijan, North and South Cyprus, then hopefully Tunisia. I believe it is doable within the next 5 to 10 years. And the clock is ticking. The following step after this network would be establishing the first atheist political party of the Middle East perhaps in the Rep. of Turkey.
In 2016-2017, I was honored to serve as the president of the oldest international atheist organization Atheist Alliance International for 2 years. My activism has caught significant negative attention at the higher levels of the pro-Islamic Turkish Government, and Justice System which is in the hands of the ruling party AKP.
In Turkey, it is mandatory that all court decisions go to Court of Appeals before they are approved as the Final Verdicts. In 2016, my previous Not Guilty verdict from 2008 was overruled by the Court of Appeals in Turkey. Since the case was dismissed in USA(2003) and then followed with an acquittal in Turkey(2008), I can only assume that this was done for another, namely, political reason. Most likely, with the political influence of the pro-Islamist administration of Turkey. I was sentenced to 14 years. It was a Final Decision, a conviction. Plus, in 2016, the Turkish courts have also brought and opened new cases accusing me for insulting the president, insulting the prime minister, insulting the regime, insulting religion, insulting religious values. My guess is that another 10-12 years of sentences are on the way from those extra-cases.
A big fat surprise:
I found out that the dismissal of my case had been reversed only in 2017. I appealed to the Turkish Court of Appeals, and to the Constitutional Court of Turkey, however both submissions were declined, because you only have 30 days for appeal after a decision is made, and it was already over a year past when I found out about this decision. I was already in Canada at the time. I decided to relocate to Canada in order to do my MA and PhD studies at Royal Roads University in the discipline of Global Leadership and arrived to Victoria BC, Canada, in January 2016 as an international student with a clean criminal record from Turkey; they reversed it later in 2016.
My lawyer in Turkey who was overseeing the case passed away in 2016 after I moved to Canada. My mother developed liver cancer and passed away shortly after. With the loss of the only two people I had in Turkey who knew the case in detail, I now was simply defenseless, helpless, in the dark.
Asylum to Canada:
In 2017, I applied for political asylum and became a refugee in Canada. Once you apply for political asylum, the study permit gets revoked. So, I had to stop my studies at Royal Roads University in 2017 until a final decision is made.
In 2018, the Refugee Board has decided that I am inadmissible/ineligible to make an asylum claim to Canada due to 'serious criminality'. Therefore my asylum claim was never evaluated. (Serious Criminality: having a criminal conviction in your home country that's over 10 years of sentence) I appealed the decision but I am told that the Canadian Immigration Board is not permitted to look beyond the conviction. In August 2018, a deportation order was issued for me.
I have already suffered a great deal because of this case which has been haunting me for the past 15 years. I have stayed under detention because of this case in 2 different countries for almost 2 years.
Since my immigration lawyer thinks that I have exhausted my asylum options, I decided to go public with my situation hoping that it may create an awareness and support. As of now my every single day passes under enormous stress as I can be deported to Turkey. I currently volunteer for 5 atheist/secular organizations around the world and try to keep myself sane under the current circumstances as much as I can. I badly need assistance and support.
True, at the age of 19-20, I did not reject flirting of a young girl; but no actual rape followed, and the following horrible tragedy of her honor killing was totally beyond my control. I have suffered for my indiscretion at 19 for the following 19 years. I do not wish to be sent back to Turkey to do more time for a crime I did not commit, the case was dismissed in USA(2003) and I was acquitted in Turkey(2008). Furthermore, I do not want to be imprisoned for the additional political and blasphemy charges which may sum up to an additional 10-12 years.
The cold truth:
Reopening of the case in Turkey in 2005 after the case was dismissed in USA was political. My extradition from USA to Turkey was political. Almost 10 years after being found Not Guilty in Turkey, the Turkish Court of Appeals has ruled out my key evidence of the elevator CCTV footage, and without that key evidence -which proves my innocence-, I was found guilty. This operation was political. The harsh sentence I was given is political. The additional charges followed me as I left Turkey are political. I see it as Turkish authorities have recognized me as a secular humanist, atheist, an anti-Islam fighter -and THAT was why they used this old cold case against me- to pin someone else's murder on me, very convenient!
2003-2004 through my lens:
The accusation was made by a Kurdish family living in Maimi/FL, originally from the city of Kars, Turkey (that region often makes the headlines with honor killings). He was a mechanic, both, my mother and myself used to take our cars to him for repairs in Miami. Once he had discovered that I was a member of a wealthy Turkish family, he decided to trap me into marrying one of his sisters. It is still commonly practiced in the traditions and customs of the region – the arranged marriages. Another tradition is that if a girl loses her virginity to you, you have to marry her, because now she is 'a used good'. This is the Islamic mindset hence the custom/tradition in the region, more than just a social code in that society. Even the Turkish Justice System used to release the inmate from prison if he marries the girl/victim. This Turkish Criminal Code was still in use until recently (repealed in 2005, tried to be put back by pro-Islamist gov't in 2016).
In short, the mechanic-brother blackmailed me to marry his sister. I was told on a phone call that, a few days ago the girl and I had sex at my place and I took her virginity, so according to their tradition I have to marry her ASAP. If I refuse they said they were going to go to police with a rape accusation. I was very angry, because she had been chasing me for two months, as her phone records showed that she texted and called me over 60 times within 2 months where I only returned 5 of those. Plus, when that girl visited my place first-time-ever a few days ago with her brother's fiancee, she was very flirtatious, kissing, hugging me on her own initiative in the first place. I had all of this, plus a CCTV footage as a material evidence: the log of the time when I received that urgent phone call, and the time we left my condo, plus her hugging and kissing me twice on lips as the elevator goes down to the lobby - everything is on record. With the help of this elevator and lobby security camera footage -showing mutual consent as we leave the building together-, the case was later dismissed. Yet, the charges were dropped due to 'lack of admissible evidence'.
Months later, I discovered through mutual friends that she was sent to me that day by her brother with the instruction to have sex and lose her virginity. Therefore, I guess, she probably told her family (brother) upon return home that we had indeed had sex. Otherwise they wouldn't make this rape accusation. They did not know that she was indeed still a virgin until they later found out it from the report of the doctor who examined her postmortem.
Things took a tragic turn. I do not want to speculate to what might have had happened after they found out about it, but the girl was found dead at home hanged from the ceiling. It went on record as a suicide.
As a 20 years old with no police/court/legal experience, I failed to explain what an honor killing was to the ignorant detective who was handling the case. I tried to tell him that it was a 'tribal murder' (back then I didn't know the term 'honor-killing', so that was how I tried to translate and explain with my limited English). As far as the detective was concerned, there was a rape accusation, and then the victim had committed suicide. Oh, and they are both foreigners. Case closed.
About a year later, my mom received a call from the Kurdish brother himself with insults, and death treats to her and myself. She was asked to pay 400.000 USD ''blood-money''. Blood-money is another custom which is a compensation paid to the family who had experienced a loss by the person who caused it. It is sometimes the following stage of an honor-killing. This is how my mother had testified under oath about what she was told by him: 'We had to sacrifice (take out) our sister because of your son. You need to pay us 400k USD blood-money. If not, we will open the same rape case in Turkey, and get your son jailed first, and then kill him in prison''.
Above was the summary of the story through my lens.
2006-2010 through my lens:
After this rape allegation case in 2003, neither the Turkish Media nor the Justice System left me alone. I was once profiled as a bad guy.
First, they charged me for insulting the Justice System and insulting the regime because of comparing the judicial process I was put through with the Banana Republic practices in one of my interviews. I went to hearings for two years for that case. It was again on the news. I beat it.
Getting hunted while hunting:
Then, I was wrongfully charged with another friend for attempting to bribe a police officer at a traffic stop. Funny, because we were not even driving a car, we were pedestrians. Me and my friend were taking a photo of a police officer receiving a bribe at a traffic stop. We probably didn't hide ourselves well-enough. Ironically, we were the ones that got arrested and, charged with same, and had to appear on court. We beat it.
Insulting Islam with strippers:
Between 2007 to 2011, I used to own 5 companies in Istanbul Turkey mostly in show-business. A music record label co., an event production co., a modelling and casting agency, an advertisement agency, and a monthly theater magazine paper. On the website of my event productions company Bachelor Parties (with dancers) was listed on the same web page with the Ramadan Dinner entertainments. I was crucified, this time by media, because a Bachelor's Event party with dancers were being advertised on the same web page with a religious event by the same company. It was not acceptable for the religious people, they called it outrageous. As our defense, we were simply listing the events we produce in the alphabetic order on our company website. That's all.
Shortly after that, I was being crucified on the Turkish media for not letting a lady to work in none my companies. She applied to all of our companies for various positions and she was declined. She was simply not qualified. She was a young Muslim lady with hijab applying for work with religious comments in her emails thinking that it will get her the job easier. Once she was declined, she applied again and again. After the third round. I have sent her a bold letter stating that she should no longer try. I advised her to look for a job perhaps in more conservative neighborhoods where she may be hired faster and where her religious appearance will work in her favor. And I added that, such religious attire and comments in her emails will not get her any advantage in our group of companies since we share secular values. Turns out, she was a bait by the religious media. My response email to her was on headlines of the 'religious media' next morning. The fuss went on for a week with various provocative headlines making connections with this incident and the previous Miami/FL case I was involved in.
Accessory to prostitution:
A few months after that, this time my modelling and casting agency was under investigation for being an accessory to an escort agency that some of our models and former workers had ties with. Here I was on the news, again. I already had a bad reputation in Turkish Media due to above listed cases year after year. This last one was like a cherry-on-top for the religious media outlets. I had nothing to do with it. Two of my former women employees were involved. When I found out about their involvement, I fired both ladies right away, but did not report the illegal activity to the police. Because I didn't want my name, nor my companies to be involved with such thing. Those two employees used to be my tenants as well. 10 days after I asked them to evict the premises, they got caught while they were still living there, and just like that, I was involved in it. In court, it was established that I did not have financial ties. However, I was the owner of one of the agencies being investigated which those two individuals used to work for, and I was technically still their landlord without a lease. I was detained for 23 months during the investigation and the trial, and then got released. Even the ladies who was later on found guilty of running the whole operation, were not detained for a single day. Even after they were found Guilty and sentenced they still did not do any time. However, the local court was very prejudiced, subjective and determined about me from the beginning. You can see it from the duration of detention which exceeds the actual sentence of the ones that were found primarily responsible. I beat it at the Court of Appeals level. The court of appeals decided 'the local court has rushed to make a decision about my involvement without a proper investigation'. Having said that, I don't know what happened with that case after 2016.
Above incidents is why I make the claim that I have been harassed, framed and crucified for many things by the Turkish media and Justice System all my life year after year.
I was tried for insulting the Turkish Justice System and the state of Turkey, for comparing it to the Banana Republic in an 2014 interview while I was living in Washington DC. I was wrong. As of 2020, Justice in Turkey now is a laughingstock, comparing it to the Banana Republic practices is indeed an insult to the respective Banana Republics worldwide.