Secret government documents that show illegal cyber operations and criminal investigations conducted by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeting critics living in Germany have continued unabated despite the coronavirus pandemic dominating the world agenda in recent months.
A review of the confidential papers, obtained by Nordic Monitor, shows that tweets from Turkish dissidents resident in Germany and a report published by the Foundation for Dialogue and Education (Stiftung Dialog und Bildung) were listed as evidence of terrorism by authorities in Turkey. The documents also reveal how Turkish police conducted cyber-attacks and attempted to hack into the accounts of critics in Germany.
One document, stamped secret and dated February 13, 2020, shows that the cyber unit of the police department compiled a report on the website of Stiftung Dialog und Bildung, an organization that is affiliated with Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish Muslim scholar who is an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan regime in Turkey. A postscript to the document indicates that the police compiled a 171-page report on the organization, a 39-page report about Ercan Karakoyun, the executive chairman of the organization, and a 23-page report on Hüseyin Karakuş, its deputy chairman.
The document was signed by Ibrahim Baran, deputy head of the cybercrime unit in the police department, and submitted to the counterterrorism department at the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate for Security. Another document, also stamped secret and dated February 20, 2020, indicates that the reports were submitted to the Interpol/Europol section of the police department and the provincial police departments in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Konya. A copy was also forwarded to the police intelligence department. The document, signed by Erdoğan Kartal, deputy manager of the counterterrorism department, asks the various units to work with the judicial authorities to do what is required of them with respect to Karakoyun and Karakuş.
After receiving the notice from headquarters, Hakan Özer, deputy provincial police chief in Konya, forwarded the documents and reports on Stiftung Dialog und Bildung and its administrators Karakuş and Karakoyun to the counterterrorism and organized crime units for further criminal investigation.
The 171-page report was compiled mainly from the web page of Stiftung Dialog und Bildung and translated into Turkish through the Google Translate service. In addition to Karakoyun and Karakuş, the police investigated the social media accounts of people listed on the organization’s website and affiliated with the Gülen movement. Among them were Abdullah Aymaz, Mehmet Ali Şengül, Şefika Uğuz, Ahmet Daşkın, Hanife Tosun, Talha Güzel and Kadir Boyacı.
The police tried to obtain more information by initiating password recovery and reset procedures for the Twitter and Facebook accounts of these critics and their organization, Stiftung Dialog und Bildung. For example, page 41 of the report shows how the police tried to hack into the @stiftungDuB twitter account by initiating a password reset option. Page 66 of the report shows a similar attempt was made to the Twitter account owned by Şengül. Page 121 shows an attempt to gain access to the Facebook account of Tosun. Others were subjected to similar hacking attempts as well.
A report published by Stiftung Dialog und Bildung and posted on its website was included in the criminal file as if it were evidence of terrorism. Titled “Bericht über die Verfolgung der Gülen-Bewegung” (Report on the persecution of the Gülen movement), the report was appended to the case file.
Among the documents was a separate 39-page report specifically prepared about Karakoyun that the police said identified his location in the town of Schwerte in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The police identified his Gmail address and tried to hack into his Twitter and Facebook accounts by using the password reset option. Another 23-page report was prepared on Karakuş, and similar investigation techniques were used against him as well.
Critics of the Erdoğan government abroad, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, threats of death and abduction since 2014, when then-Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan decided to scapegoat the group for his own legal troubles, ranging from corruption to aiding and abetting jihadist groups in Syria.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 166 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight in 2016 by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
In July 2017 German newspaper Die Zeit reported that Turkey had handed Germany a list of 68 companies and individuals suspected of links to terrorism due to alleged ties to the Gülen movement. It was also revealed that nearly 700 German firms including industry giants Daimler and BASF were being investigated for the “financing of terrorism,” lodged with Interpol by Turkey. After Germany reacted strongly to the witch-hunt and threatened economic sanctions, Turkey backed down and claimed that it was simply a miscommunication.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on fabricated terrorism charges in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. Since then, more than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation, 4,560 of whom were judges and prosecutors and were replaced by pro-Erdogan staff. As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdoğan.
Nordic Monitor previously published a report disclosing how Turkish embassies and consular officials engaged in spying on government critics in 92 foreign countries as part of profiling and espionage activities that at times amounted to a systematic and deliberate campaign of refugee spying. A document found in papers released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019 in case No. 2016/238 indicated that the Turkish Foreign Ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the movement.
The government of President Erdoğan has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over rights violations and the jailing of political opposition members, human rights defenders, journalists and representatives of civil society organizations. The criminal justice system has often been abused by Erdoğan to persecute government critics, leading to the imprisonment of tens of thousands on false charges.