Confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor show how the Turkish authorities have exploited legal mechanisms to trigger criminal investigations into politicians, including, absurdly, foreign political figures.
In 2016 a long, anonymous letter sent to the governor of the southern Turkish province of Antalya accused ex-mayor Mustafa Akaydın and his staff of alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls a terrorist organization and on which it launched a massive crackdown following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The five-page letter full of conspiracy theories mentions that Akaydın met with Speaker of the US House of Representatives “Nancy Pelosi, who is supportive of the Armenian Genocide resolution” during a visit to the US in 2013. The letter also includes the names of a number of politicians, one of whom is Meral Akşener, chairman of the opposition İyi (Good) Party. One of Akaydın’s staff members was accused of lobbying on behalf of Akşener in Antalya as if it was a criminal offense.
Antalya Governor Münir Karaoğlu, an Erdoğan crony, forwarded the unsigned letter to the Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, and subsequently, in 2017, Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Mehmet Karaya ordered the Antalya Police Department to investigate all the people whose names appeared in the letter regardless of whether they allegedly committed any crime or not. Since Nancy Pelosi was mentioned in the letter, the police also inquired into her upon the demand of the prosecutor.
It took 16 months for the Antalya Police to complete the terror investigation and prepare files for 58 people. Each file includes a criminal record, a copy of their identity registration certificate, social security history and address details. The police also investigated any involvement in the abortive coup and whether the suspect used a mobile phone messaging application called ByLock, which is similar to WhatsApp and Signal. Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement despite the fact that it was available to anyone on Google Play. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives have either been dismissed from their jobs or arrested for allegedly using ByLock since July 15, 2016.
The police also investigated whether the suspects had accounts at Bank Asya, which was affiliated with the Gülen movement. In the wake of the coup attempt, having an account at Bank Asya was presented by prosecutors as evidence of membership in a so-called “terrorist organization.”
The Erdoğan government had launched a war against the movement long before July 2016 following public revelation of a corruption scandal involving cabinet ministers and members of the Erdoğan family. The government claimed that the movement’s members within the judiciary and police force had masterminded the investigation, despite the movement denying any involvement. Eventually, one of Turkey’s biggest banks, Bank Asya, was seized by the government in 2015 for its alleged links to the Gülen movement.
The policemen who wrote the official report noted that they could not find any credentials or obtain any address details for one “NANCY PELOCY” (as originally appeared in the report). Actually, it’s hard to say whether it was good or bad that the police failed to identify the well-known American politician. It is good, however, that the policemen unintentionally prevented a diplomatic scandal between two countries that were already experiencing problems in relations. Certainly it is bad that the Turkish police were so incompetent that they failed to identify whom they were investigating.
To be sure, they are good when it comes to local politicians. Akşener was not as lucky as Pelosi in that her private information was revealed. The police added Akşener’s address details, family status and the IDs of her husband and son into her file. The police detected no suspicious banking activities and could not confirm any use on her part of ByLock.
This does not mean a sigh of relief for Akşener, however, since it was recently revealed that a confidential investigation into her alleged links to the Gülen movement is pending in Ankara. On July 17 Akşener submitted a petition to the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office saying that she was ready to testify and answer all questions prosecutors might ask. She also called on the prosecutors to declassify the prosecution.
In March President Erdoğan filed a legal complaint against Akşener for allegedly insulting him. Erdoğan threatened Akşener at a rally on March 9 during local elections, saying, “Some people are in prison; you could be one of them.”
Erdoğan was clearly not joking. Former co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been behind bars since November 2016. A court found Demirtaş guilty in September 2018 of disseminating terrorist propaganda and sentenced him to four years, eight months in prison.
According to official data provided by the Interior Ministry, Turkey has dismissed some 140,000 public servants by government decrees on allegations of Gülen links, and more than 700,000 people have been investigated on terrorism charges since the failed coup. Currently, around 50,000 Erdoğan critics are behind bars on trumped-up charges of terrorism.