Turkey secretly launched criminal investigations into subscribers of the nation’s one-time most popular children’s magazine because the parent company’s corporate owners were aligned with critics of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the head of a counterterrorism police unit in Antalya province requested detailed information about subscribers of the Gonca children’s magazine from a prosecutor in Istanbul on March 21, 2017. The magazine was published monthly and was the highest-selling children’s publication in Turkey before the government unlawfully seized it along with other companies owned by Kaynak Holding.
Kaynak Holding owned dozens of companies and maintained diverse business interests including the largest publishing house in Turkey. The government unlawfully seized it in 2015 over claims that its corporate owners were aligned with US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of the Erdoğan regime. Gonca was selling around 50,000 copies on a monthly basis.
Ilhan Murat Kulalar, the head of the counterterrorism unit, was at the time investigating several suspects who were accused of membership in the Gülen movement. He asked the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether the person(s) in question had subscriptions to Gonca, and if they were subscribers, he wanted to know the dates of their subscriptions, where it was delivered and how many copies were sold to them.
In addition to Gonca, the police officer also asked whether the suspects under investigation had subscriptions to national newspapers such as Zaman and Bugün, two major dailies that were critical of the Erdoğan government on issues such as corruption and Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting of terrorist groups. Sızıntı, an educational magazine that was selling 527,000 copies on a monthly basis and was also published by Kaynak, was also listed in the police officer’s request. Both publications were shut down by the government in 2016 along with some 180 media outlets.
The documents also show how judicial investigations are driven by the police or the executive branch. It was against established rules in the code of criminal procedure for the police to ask a prosecutor to furnish information in a police investigation. It is supposed to be the other way around. However, since the rule of law is effectively suspended in Turkey, prosecutors and judges have become tools of oppression in the hands of the Erdoğan government, which abuses the criminal justice system to hunt down critics.
In document No. 46914323-66715 (81380)/6173, a victim was identified as Selbi Baştimar, about whose subscriptions to the children’s magazine and other critical media publications the police were asking. The probe was part of coup investigation No. 2017/14482, which means the government associated subscriptions to a children magazine with coup plotting — hard to believe but unfortunately true in the case of Turkey. The file was coordinated by Antalya prosecutor Cemil Ceylan.
The government has rounded up over half a million volunteers of the Gülen movement since 2016, mainly on coup, terrorism and defamation charges. The witch-hunt aimed to suppress civil society, silence critical voices and stifle the right to dissent, while Erdoğan continued to transform Turkish democracy into a dictatorship.
In another document, No.46914323-66715 (81380)/6105, Turkish national Kadir Çil was also listed in the police request that asked Istanbul to provide detailed information about her subscriptions to Gonca, Zaman, Bugün and Sızıntı. The prosecutor’s case file was No. 2016/64567, which means his case was separately investigated from Selbi’s case above.
In a third document dated March 20, 2017 and numbered No. 46914323-66715 (81380)/285, a suspect identified as Mahmut Kodan was listed, and the police requested his subscription information to these publications as well. The prosecutor’s case file was No. 2016/71967, which is also separate from the two listed above. The fourth document was numbered 46914323-66715 (81380)/3933, and that was filed on the same day, showing a man named Hakkı Bağrıyanık was also investigated over his possible subscriptions to the publications in question as part of the prosecutor’s investigation file No. 2016/7454.
Turkish national Bekir İbiş was listed as a suspect in the fifth document, No. 46914323-66715 (81380)/23400, and the police asked for information on subscriptions to same publications as well. He was investigated by the prosecutor as part of case No. 2016/59440. The fact that all the names come from separate investigation files confirms that the criminalization of subscriptions to a children’s magazine and mainstream critical dailies have become systematic, routine and deliberate in Turkey.
Murat Kaya, the managing editor of Gonca, was arrested on fabricated terrorism charges. Osman Kaplan, the chief editor for the children’s publication, was also arrested on similar charges but later released pending trial.