Turkey launched secret criminal probes against US-based critical journalists

Riot police break down the main entrance to the İpek Media Group headquarters in İstanbul during a raid in 2015.

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Two prominent, US-based Turkish journalists have secretly been investigated by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over their comments on a YouTube channel in which they exposed evidence indicating that a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey was a false flag operation.

According to confidential files obtained by Nordic Monitor, Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Adem Yavuz Arslan, bureau chief in Washington, D.C., for the Bugün newspaper, were secretly investigated for their comments that poked holes in the Turkish government storyline of what happened during the failed coup four years ago.

Citing documentary evidence they dug out of case files that the Erdoğan government buried within tens of thousands of pages, the journalists revealed major inconsistencies in the government narrative. They shed light on newly uncovered evidence that proved how the intelligence and defense chiefs plotted to stage a fake putschist attempt to help Erdoğan consolidate his power, pursue a crackdown on the opposition and push for a cross-border military offensive into Syria.

The YouTube video apparently bothered the Erdoğan government, prompting the cyber crimes unit of the General Security Directorate (Emniyet) to launch a fresh criminal investigation into the journalists. In a letter stamped secret in July 2019, Mehmet Hamdemir, the deputy head of the Security Department (Güvenlik Dairesi), distributed the confidential information file compiled about the journalists to the intelligence and counterterrorism departments as well as the protection unit of President Erdoğan’s office for further action.

 

Secret police letter detailing the file compiled on critical journalists Ekrem Dumanlı and Adem Yavuz Arslan:

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The paper trail indicates the agencies that received the secret file on the journalists took actions that would jeopardize their security. On September 18, 2019 Ibrahim Özturk, director of the counterterrorism department in Ankara, sent the file to the office of the chief public prosecutor, informing the office that necessary action had been taken against the journalists.

Dumanlı, who for years ran Turkey’s one-time best-selling Zaman newspaper, was forced to live in exile in the United States. He had been detained by the police in December 2014 on false charges and later released. He had to flee to avoid new warrants issued for him despite his release. Zaman, which used to sell 1.2 million copies a day at its peak, was seized by the government in March 2014 on a complaint filed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated pro-Erdoğan group that claimed the paper had defamed the jihadist group in articles and op-ed pieces. After the government takeover, the paper was turned into a government mouthpiece overnight, with chief editors immediately dismissed and government loyalists brought in to run the publication. The circulation dropped to 4,000 in a week after a major reader backlash, and the government shut it down in July 2016, wiping out decades of work in the newspaper’s archives and taking down its website.

 

Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı is seen speaking in front of İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse in December 2014.

 

Arslan, the other journalist who was being hunted by the Erdoğan government, was working in the US as the representative for Turkey’s third-largest media outlet, managed by Koza İpek Holding, which was also the owner of national television networks Kanaltürk and Bugün TV, the Millet daily, a radio station and the English-language news website BGNNews.com. On September 1, 2015 the Bugün daily published still shots of CCTV video footage that showed a large amount of materials, including explosives, construction pipes, large metal plates and fertilizer ingredients, being transported to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Turkey’s Akçakale border gate in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa while Turkish customs officials stood by and watched.

 

Pages from the police file show screenshots of YouTube videos where the journalists debated events in Turkey:

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On the day the newspaper ran the headline story, the police raided offices of the Ipek group on false accusations of financial irregularities. However, the Koza İpek media continued its independent and critical editorial line despite pressure from the government and intimidation by the police. On October 22, 2015 prosecutors and judges appointed by the Erdoğan government issued a new warrant to seize all 22 companies owned by the İpek family, including media outlets. Police officers forced their way into Koza İpek Holding headquarters in Ankara on October 27, using tear gas on protesters who had gathered to support the conglomerate. A similar display of brute force was seen in the takeover of the company’s media outlets in Istanbul.

Though living in exile in the US, hunted and harassed by operatives of the Erdoğan regime, both journalists have been trying to continue their journalistic work under challenging circumstances. Launching criminal charges against journalists in exile is part of an intimidation campaign pursued by the Turkish government to prevent them from speaking out and against President Erdoğan. The government also went after their family members, immediate and distant, initiating investigations in a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system in Turkey, where the rule of law has effectively been suspended.

The secret case file against the journalists listed their YouTube video links from July 2019 and screen shots from the footage. The YouTube page shows their video had been watched 231,000 times as of April 20, 2020 and was cited by multiple news outlets run by independent and critical journalists.

 

Screenshot from the YouTube video of journalists Ekrem Dumanlı (R) and Adem Yavuz Arslan.

 

The police file on Dumanli shows that he faces 30 outstanding arrest warrants issued by Turkish authorities, while Arslan is the subject of eight arrest warrants. The accusations range from defaming and insulting President Erdoğan and members of the judiciary to terrorism and coup plotting, the usual charges the Turkish government levels against independent and critical journalists in Turkey.

The Erdoğan government brands all its critics as terrorists, and 161 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish jails on terrorism charges, making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to the latest monitoring report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom. Like Dumanlı and Arslan, 167 Turkish journalists in total have been forced into self-exile to escape prison on false accusations.

 

Letter from the police counterterrorism department informing the prosecutor’s office about journalists Ekrem Dumanlı and Adem Yavuz Arslan:

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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.

Critics of the Erdoğan government, 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 movement, led by the US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, has been an outspoken critic of Erdoğan government on a range of issues.

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 the 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.

The assets of individuals and entities affiliated with the movement which, according to estimates from Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), amounted to $11 billion, were also expropriated. The government also seized the assets and wealth of critical journalists and deprived them of their livelihood in order to stifle freedom of press and expression.

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