Spying by Turkish diplomats triggers criminal investigations into children, spouses of critics

Nordic Monitor

 

Intelligence reports created by Turkish diplomatic missions as part of a large-scale spying campaign on critics and opponents of the Turkish government living outside Turkey have been used in criminal cases in which they, their spouses and even their children were prosecuted in absentia, government documents have revealed.

According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, a public prosecutor launched criminal investigations into five on dubious charges after they were profiled by Turkish diplomats who sent their names to the authorities in Turkey. The investigations show the prosecutor also ordered probes into the spouses and children of the people who were spied on abroad.

A document dated April 22, 2019 and signed by public prosecutor Birol Tufan highlights the fact that criminal investigations have been launched into innocent people who were listed in espionage files dispatched by Turkish diplomats without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing. As seen in several cases, Tufan first opened an investigation into Turkish nationals living abroad, then ordered the Ankara Police Department to provide further information on critics who were accused of links to the Gülen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

However, the public prosecutor has the duty to conduct an investigation in order to decide whether it is necessary to prosecute and to ascertain if there are “factual findings that indicate a crime has been committed” in accordance with Article 160/1 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK). None of the procedural safeguards were observed in prosecuting Erdoğan critics, while due process and fair trial protections have effectively been suspended in the Turkish judicial system.

The document laid bare how criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials were conducted in Turkey. It confirms that the Turkish judicial system is no longer impartial, credible or independent as indicated by several landmark decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in favor of government critics.

According to the document conveyed by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to the Ankara Police Department, prosecutor Tufan asked for information on the legal activities of critics such as depositing funds in the Bank Asya, volunteering at Gülen-affiliated organizations, working for companies linked to the movement, sharing social media messages in support of movement activities, sending their children to the country’s best-performing schools run by the Gülen movement and using a mobile messaging app called ByLock. The schools, bank, companies and other organizations were licensed and duly authorized by the government and regularly monitored and audited by the relevant government agencies.

Working for schools, foundations and companies established by businesspeople who were seen as close to the Gülen movement and sending children to schools run by the movement were considered acts of terrorism by the prosecutor. Moreover, Tufan flagged people as criminals because they had deposits at Bank Asya, once the largest Islamic lender in Turkey and one of its biggest private banks until it was unlawfully seized by the government in May 2015. In the document sent to the police, downloading ByLock, once a publicly available smart phone messaging application, was also defined as an act terrorism. Tufan also pursued investigations into family members, seeking to determine if they were members of associations and foundations affiliated with the Gülen movement, the details of their overseas trips and if they had cancelled their cable TV subscriptions to protest the government’s removal of critical TV networks from the lineup.

 

Two-page document confirming that Turkish diplomats triggered criminal prosecutions in Turkey. ID numbers in the document have been redacted by Nordic Monitor.

 

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Over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement in Turkey have been put in detention facilities in the last three years alone on similar charges. Based on profiling lists, people were arrested, investigated and even prosecuted. Their assets were seized, and family members and relatives were also the subject of criminal charges. The critics identified in this specific case are listed as Gülsüm Emirdağ, Şerafettin Küççükoğlu, Orhan İnandi, Osman Karakuş and Süleyman Şentürk.

The investigation conducted by Tufan followed a pattern seen in other cases. In addition to the counterterrorism unit of the police department, he also forwarded the list to the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) on February 2, 2019 for further action against the Turkish nationals who were profiled abroad by Turkish embassies and consulates. Tufan urged MASAK to investigate these people, their assets, companies and legitimate transactions on criminal pretexts. The documents indicated that the prosecutor profiled the spouses and family members including children and relatives of the critics in a guilt-by-association fallacy.

 

Prosecutor Birol Tufan. He used to be a small-town lawyer in the city of Alaplı in Zonguldak province until he was tapped by the Erdoğan government to serve as the regime’s prosecutor in 2014.

Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing the scope and extent of major spying activity conducted by Turkish diplomatic missions. The new documents revealed that such activity still continues and in fact results in serious consequences in Turkish judicial system. In addition to the arbitrary punishments in Turkey, people who were listed in these documents were also targeted by a campaign of intimidation and harassment and denied consular services abroad.

It is clear that Turkish diplomatic missions violate the domestic laws of receiving states and the principles of international law by conducting unlawful information-gathering campaigns and sweeping intelligence operations. Erdoğan’s envoys enjoyed the privileges and immunities described in the international conventions, while they systematically spied on critics of the President, collected information on Turks living abroad and transmitted it to headquarters.

The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. However, diplomats enjoying the privileges and immunities described in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and to avoid interfering in its internal affairs as detailed in Article 41. Similarly, consular staff are granted limited privileges and immunities by the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, but the host state authorities can start investigations and prosecute any of the personnel if they perpetrate crimes inside or outside the consulate premises according to Article 43 of the convention.

 

Official document sent to MASAK. ID numbers in the document have been redacted by Nordic Monitor.

 

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