Israeli couple accused of spying in Turkey will remain until trial begins

Mordy and Natali Oknin of Modi’in who were accused of spying remain in custody, insist they only took tourist photos.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A Turkish court ruled on Saturday that an Israeli couple arrested last week for illegally photographing an Istanbul palace will remain in custody until their trial begins.

Turkish police had recommended that Mordy and Natalie Oknin, of Modi’in, be deported. The two said they didn’t know that it was illegal to take photographs of the Dolmabahçe Palace.

The palace served as the residence of several Ottoman sultans and Turkey’s first president until the Turkish capital was moved to Ankara in 1923. The Oknins sent several photos to a family WhatsApp group.

Media reports said a Turkish citizen who was apparently their tour guide is also in custody.

Israeli diplomats in Turkey and Jerusalem have been working to secure the Oknin’s release. Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have contacted Turkish officials to reassure them that the Oknins do not work for any intelligence agencies. Mordy and Natalie Okinin are both employed as Egged bus drivers.

Prosecutors claim the Oknins also photographed security checkpoints. Initial reports said Oknins photographed the palace from a ferry. But Turkish reports said the photographs were taken from the Camlica Tower, a telecommunications tower with an observation deck that is highest point in Istanbul.

Hebrew media reports said Israeli lawyer Nir Yaslovizh has already arrived in Istanbul to represent the couple.

Israel’s Channel 12 quoted an anonymous source familiar with Turkey’s legal system who said the couple’s unexpected remand smacked of politics. “It is clear that this was a political, rather than a legal, decision… It is clear that elements in Erdogan’s circle exerted pressure and briefed him as if these were Mossad agents on an Israeli mission.”

In October, Sabah, a Turkish daily, published photos of 15 people it alleged were part of a Mossad spy ring gathering information on Palestinians.