Turkish intelligence agency MIT got away with illegal wiretapping of prominent journalist

Mehmet Altan. Turkish journalist, author and academic

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

A panel of judges acquitted Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) of falsifying documents in order to illegally wiretap the telephone of Turkish journalist, academic and author Mehmet Hasan Altan.

According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the intelligence agency falsified the legal briefs submitted to the court to secure authorization for the wiretapping of Altan’s two mobile phones on October 30, 2008. In its brief MIT claimed that it wanted to identify an international espionage network and terrorist activities and listed Altan as a suspect under the fake code name “pastor.” The Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court judge approved the request without knowing that the suspect mentioned by MIT was actually a prominent journalist.

MIT requested an extension of the wiretap on February 9, 2009 from a judge at the the 11th High Criminal Court and a second extension on May 8, 2009 from the 14th High Criminal Court. Both requests were approved. MIT filed a fresh request for the journalist’s phone on November 4, 2009 instead of requesting another three-month extension but changed the fake name it attributed to Altan to “Qunramaddin Fatimi.” As the court requires more detailed explanations for extensions in wiretapping cases, MIT changed the name but added similar claims to justify the surveillance.

In its defense MIT claimed that Altan was not targeted in the investigation but that the agency wanted to collect intelligence on an espionage network that was connected to his phone and learn more about contacts that may have pursued illegal intelligence activities in Turkey.

 

The court decision that cleared the Turkish intelligence agency of any wrongdoing in the illegal wiretapping of journalist Mehmet Altan: 

mehmet_altan_mit

 

Altan filed a civil suit against the agency, stating that MIT manipulated the courts in securing a wiretap authorization for him, falsified records and violated the privacy of his communications, which are protected by the Turkish Constitution. He also sued the Prime Ministry, led at the time by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to whom MIT is subordinated.

In a civil suit fled with the Istanbul 5th Administrative Court in 2012, Altan sought 50,000 Turkish lira in punitive damages. MIT was represented by the agency’s legal advisor, Umit Ulvi Canikli, and lawyer Demet Sezer. Nobody showed up at the final hearing from the Office of the Prime Ministry, and no defense motion was filed with the court.

Although the case was a clear breach of the journalist’s constitutional rights, the panel of judges — Ahmet Erkal, Zafer Aydın and Hakan Yumuşak — ruled on April 11, 2014 that MIT had complied with the law and dismissed the case, stating that the journalist’s lawsuit lacked merit. Altan was also ordered to pay the lawyers’ fees for MIT and the cost of the court proceedings.

A criminal complaint filed with the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office by Altan and other victims in an illegal wiretapping case was also prevented by Erdoğan, who declined to give permission for the prosecutor to launch criminal proceedings against MIT, on May 9, 2013. Prosecutor Ekrem Aydıner dropped the criminal charges on May 23, 2013.

Altan was arrested on fabricated coup charges in September 2016 and was released pending trial in June 2018. In a landmark decision the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey had violated the freedom of expression of Altan and his colleague and journalist Şahin Alpay. The Turkish Constitutional Court also ruled in January 2018 to release both Altan and Alpay, stressing that the order should be considered obligatory by all judicial institutions. Alpay was released in March 2018, but the authorities kept Altan in jail until June 2018.

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