Turkish Embassy spied on critical journalist in Denmark, helped build false criminal case, secret documents reveal

Turkish embassy building in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Credit: Google image)

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

The Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen profiled and monitored a Denmark-based Turkish journalist who was critical of the government in Ankara and had been moved to a safe house by the Danish intelligence service after a plot to kill him was discovered, Nordic Monitor has learned.

According to secret Turkish government documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Turkish Embassy had filed two reports about Hasan Cücük, a veteran Turkish reporter who had been working as a journalist in Denmark since the 1990s. The classified documents indicate that the Turkish Embassy reports were sent to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara and were later shared with other branches of government, helping to build a false criminal case on terrorism charges. The journalist faces multiple indictments in Turkey, his native country, drafted by the government in order to silence his critical views and dissuade him from writing. There is no credible evidence of wrongdoing in any of the investigation cases launched against the journalist, although prosecutors cited his writings, social media postings and expression of political views as tantamount to criminal activity.

 

Hasan Cücük

 

The embassy profiling report eventually ended up in a criminal investigation case managed by Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı against Cücük and others who were falsely accused of terrorism because of their affiliation with the Gülen movement, a group critical of the government in Turkey. The report singled out the journalist as one of the leading critics in Denmark of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The report shows that the journalist’s involvement in a media outlet based in Copenhagen was reported by embassy operatives as if constituting criminal activity. Cücük’s name was listed twice in an Excel-style worksheet with an explanatory note attached next to his name. One line showed him as being affiliated with Zaman ApS and another with Moving Media ApS.

 

The secret police investigation report on journalist Hasan Cücük and other critics (identifying information for others listed was redacted by Nordic Monitor) :

Hasan_Cucuk2

 

Both companies are in fact the same entity according to a registry file kept in the Danish Central Business Register (Det Centrale Virksomhedsregisteror CVR). Zaman was established on November 1, 1999 and was renamed Moving Media ApS on December 15, 2013. The company had maintained a partnership with the Zaman newspaper, the largest national daily in Turkey with 1.2 million subscribers at its peak, until the paper was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on March 4, 2016.

Zaman was turned into a government mouthpiece overnight, but subscriptions dropped to 4,000 in a week’s time after a major backlash among Turkish society. The government decided to shut it down altogether in July 2016.

The documents reveal that Cücük’s name surfaced during a statement given by a defendant, and prosecutor Akıncı ordered the Ankara Police Department on November 20, 2018 to investigate the journalist and others named in the statement. On January 7, 2019 Ibrahim Bozkurt, head of the counterterrorism unit, sent a full report about Cücük and others to the prosecutor’s office. The report included information obtained from various sources. In Cücük’s case, it was noted that the information came from the Foreign Ministry, which had forwarded the profiling data obtained from its embassy in Denmark.

 

Letter to the police’s counterterrorism unit from Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı:

Hasan_Cucuk3

 

A statement on Cücük, provided by a detainee when she was taken into custody by the police counterterrorism unit in Konya on May 23, 2017, described him as working for Zaman in Denmark, striving to gain readers for the print edition and writing for the media outlet as a columnist. He was identified as affiliated with the Gulen movement. The statement was entered into the criminal case file as evidence against the journalist.

 

Police investigation photo ID report on the journalist:

Hasan_Cucuk_report_redacted

 

Another document dated March 3, 2020 and signed by Ankara prosecutor Sabri Sayar includes a statement given by a suspect identifying Cücük as having engaged in journalistic activity in Denmark as if such work constituted evidence of a crime. The statement was sent to the office of chief prosecutor in Turkey’s central province of Sivas where the journalist is facing a separate criminal investigation on fabricated terrorism charges. Cücük’s name was also cited among defendants in a high-profile case in Istanbul in which prominent journalists were unlawfully tried, convicted and sentenced to long jail terms as the government intensified its crackdown on critical and independent journalists.

 

Ankara prosecutor Sabri Sayar’s letter on Cücük:

Hasan_Cucuk_sivas_redacted

 

The threat to Cücük was not limited to a criminal prosecution aimed at silencing him in Denmark. He also faced death threats. In January 2017 Cücük had to be rushed to a safe house by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, or PET) after a serious threat to his life was detected. The threat, described by the authorities as of a “political nature,” is believed to have been linked to a group contracted by the clandestine services of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The intercept by PET was handled at the highest level, and a decision was eventually made to ensure the safety of the journalist.

On January 6, 2017 at 18:15 hours, two PET intelligence officers showed up at his door and told him about the death threat against him. “Some people want to kill you over the weekend. We need to move you to a safe location,” they said. Cücük’s initial reaction was that it must be a joke, but he quickly realized it was no laughing matter. The officers explained that the Turkish journalist was well known by Danish authorities and that they would not allow any harm to come to him in Denmark.

Danish security’s initial plan was to keep Cücük and his family for only two days until they could make a thorough assessment of the situation and take countermeasures. It did not work out the way the authorities planned, and Cücük’s stay in the safe house was extended. When Danish investigators concluded that the threat to his life had been eliminated, they let him go back to his home.

 

Letter from Ibrahim Bozkurt, head of the counterterrorism unit, who investigated Cücük:

Hasan_Cucuk4

 

Cücük, a 47-year-old reporter, became a target of the Erdoğan government overnight in March 2014 when he posed a hardball question to then-Turkish President Abdullah Gül. During a joint press event in Copenhagen with then-Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the journalist asked the Turkish president to comment on a vicious hate campaign pursued by Erdoğan, then serving as prime minister, against US-based Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Erdoğan had launched a series of public attacks on the elderly Muslim cleric, an advocate of interfaith dialogue, for having met with Pope John Paul II in 1998 and called him all kind of names ranging from “traitor” to “virus.” Cücük asked the Turkish president how that vile and hateful language in the Turkish government’s narrative differed from that of Islamophobia, which the same government claimed to be battling and was criticizing European governments for doing so little to deal with. Gül dodged the question, but Cücük himself became a target of hatred and a slander campaign the next day in Turkey’s pro-government media.

 

Uğur Kenan İpek, Turkish ambassador to Denmark.

 

Cücük was flagged by Turkey as a high-profile critic because of his vocal and quite popular writings on social media, especially on Twitter, where he often posted messages critical of the Erdoğan regime. With clever and smart punchlines that quickly went viral on social media, he has been among the key drivers in shaping the public perception of the Turkish government. At one time, he was listed 139th among influential Twitter users with some 8 million followers in Turkey, according to the now-defunct Turkish tracking site StarMetre.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), 166 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, while 167 who were forced into exile are wanted on fabricated terrorism charges. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest newspaper as well as popular TV networks since 2015. With the purge and/or imprisonment of over 4,000 judges and prosecutors in the 2016-2017 period, the rule of law was effectively suspended and the Turkish judiciary was transformed into a tool of the government, which often abuses the criminal justice system to punish its critics and opponents on terrorism charges.

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 Jan. 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 seen as close to the Gülen movement.

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