While hundreds of journalists have been kept for years in prison in Turkey on dubious charges, the Turkish government embarked on a training program for African media representatives during which media ethics and journalism were taught by controversial Islamist organizations.
A short-term training program for African journalists, officially known as the Africa Media Representatives Training Program (AFMED), was conducted by the African Researchers Association (AFAM), founded by former Ambassador Ahmet Kavas, who sympathized with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Another contributor to the program was the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a front charity that was identified as an arms smuggler to radical terrorist groups in Syria and Libya. Other partners were listed as the African Coordination and Training Center (AKEM) of the corrupt Deniz Feneri charity, in cooperation with the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) diaspora agency and the state-run Anatolia news agency (AA).
AFMED, focusing on early and mid-career professionals in the media sector, was held between October 21 and November 12, 2019 in Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish public broadcaster TRT, the government-funded Maarif Foundation and the SETA Foundation, which profiled Turkish journalists working for foreign media outlets, also contributed to the program, during which attendees spent three weeks in Turkey.
AFAM, the main organizer of the AFMED program, was founded and led by Kavas, the former Turkish ambassador to Chad between 2013-2015. In February 2013 he faced criticism after declaring on Twitter that “Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization” and accusing France of intentionally exaggerating the terrorist threat in Mali. His posts were interpreted by lawmakers and journalists to mean that he viewed the global terror group as a legitimate resistance movement.
“The word ‘terror’ is a French invention. Not the work of Muslims,” he also tweeted as French forces entered Mali in a bid to halt the encroaching Islamist fighters. Turkish lawmakers launched a parliamentary inquiry aimed at forcing the ambassador to explain himself and his sympathies for al-Qaeda.
The second partner of the project, AKEM, is the center of the Deniz Feneri Foundation. In September 2008 a German court convicted three Turkish men involved in the charity of siphoning off donations. The trio was accused of 200 counts of embezzlement and admitted to taking 18.6 million euros in cash from the bank accounts of the German branch of Deniz Feneri.
According to the investigation, the donations were sought through advertisements on the Internet, in the press and on private Turkish television channel Kanal 7, which broadcast images of human suffering in Turkey, Pakistan and other nations. Furthermore, German police established that donations in Germany to Deniz Feneri had totaled 41 million euros from early 2002 until the end of April 2007, when the inquiry into the charity became public.
Kanal 7 is owned by the Albayrak family, known to have close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
AFMED was attended by 20 participants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia and Sudan. According to its web page, the program aimed to enhance mutual cooperation between Turkey and African countries by supporting experience-sharing in the field of media. To ensure this, it “offers both practical and theoretical training of 3 weeks’ duration and includes stakeholders’ visits, internship opportunities in the leading institutions of Turkey.”
Besides knowledge-sharing-based seminars and courses, the program also “provided [an] opportunity to empower cultural interaction through additional cultural events and city tours in Istanbul and Ankara.”
During the project, African journalists were trained in social media, digital and Internet journalism, information gathering and sourcing, media economics, photography, interview techniques, terrorism, energy, Turkish foreign policy and humanitarian diplomacy.
However, the African journalists were briefed on Turkey’s humanitarian initiatives by IHH Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Oruç, who had previously talked about the importance of armed factions in jihadist movements by using an example from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines. The IHH was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria and Libya and acts as a revolving door for installing religious fanatics and zealots in government jobs with the help of the Turkish president’s family enterprise.
Recently, a joint report by eight international press freedom and journalism organizations underscored the depth of Turkey’s now three-year-long crackdown on the media. The report called on the Turkish government to release all jailed journalists, stop the arbitrary persecution of the press, revise anti-terror and defamation laws and end political interference in the judiciary.