Turkish government cyber teams tried to hack Twitter account of critical academic

Reşit Haylamaz

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Turkish cyber teams working for the Turkish Interior Ministry tried to hack into the Twitter account of an academic critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan while launching multiple criminal cases against him, secret documents have revealed.

According to a secret police file obtained by Nordic Monitor, Reşit Haylamaz, a prominent, 55-year-old Muslim scholar, has been systematically and deliberately targeted by Turkish authorities for his critical views of the current Islamist government in Turkey.

In a letter stamped secret and dated October 6, 2017, the Istanbul Police Department’s counterterrorism chief, Kayhan Ay, asked the Public Security Department (Güvenlik Şube Müdürlüğü) to investigate Haylamaz based on a preliminary research report compiled in July 2017 by the Cyber Crimes Unit. He was accused of breaking multiple laws, ranging from defaming President Erdoğan to insulting the police department.

 

Secret police letter concerning a report compiled about Reşit Haylamaz:

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Hasan Cevher, the head of the Public Security Department, wrote to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office on October 4, 2019, saying that Haylamaz’s Twitter comments could very well include criminal elements. On January 13, 2020 the office referred the case to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, citing jurisdictional issues and claiming that a similar case was already being pursued against Haylamaz in the Turkish capital.

As a proof of criminal acts, the police cited Haylamaz’s tweets and retweets that showed nothing but critical comments on a range of issues related to the governance of Turkey. The nine-page report about the academic included screen shots of social media messages including one in which he shared a tweet posted by journalist Can Dundar, who fled to Germany after release pending trial in Turkey.

The Turkish police cyber unit illegally filed a password reset request with Twitter to identify and hack Haylamaz’s account.

 

Haylamaz also retweeted posts by journalists Tarik Toros and Yavuz Baydar, who were also forced into exile by the Erdoğan government and the subjects of counterterrorism investigations. All of them were accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been highly critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to Erdoğan’s arming of radical jihadists in Syria.

Haylamaz accused Erdoğan of scapegoating the Gülen movement for his own mistakes and shortcomings in the governance of the country and criticized him for trying to pin the blame on the movement for a failed coup on July 15, 2016.

 

The police department letter identifying the critical academic Haylamaz:

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Page 7 of the report reveals how hackers in the cyber unit tried to steal Haylamaz’s private information by using the password reset option. The report also suggests that the government reached out to the Twitter, which is represented in Turkey by the ELİG Lokmanhekim Gürkaynak law firm . It also noted that Haylamaz published a book titled “Bizim Firavun” (Our Pharaoh) and that more information could be obtained about him by contacting his publisher, Işık Yayınları, in Istanbul.

The documents show that the academic was named as a suspect in five separate criminal cases pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul, Ankara and Sakarya and faces charges such as defaming President Erdoğan and coup-plotting. So far 17 arrest warrants issued for him since 2015 are outstanding. The government has presented Haylamaz’s writings, books and comments on social media to substantiate the very serious charges against him.

Haylamaz has been a staunch opponent of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that commit terrorist acts in the name of religion and often spoke against them. He has also been critical of the Erdoğan government’s intervention into Syria. He said all parties should have listened to the advice of prominent Muslim scholar Mohamed Said Ramadan al-Bouti, who spoke out against terrorism in the name of Islam. “When he raised his voice, al-Bouti was silenced,” Haylamaz said, recalling his assassination in March 2013 in Damascus.

Haylamaz has authored many books, some of which were also translated into English. He had also worked for various media outlets, publishing houses and TV and radio stations in Turkey. He currently lives outside of Turkey.

He graduated from Uludağ University’s faculty of theology. After receiving his master’s degree from the department of Islamic law at the same university, he pursued a doctorate in tafsir (the explanation and interpretation of the Quran) at Sakarya University’s Social Sciences Institute. Having worked at various newspapers and TV and radio stations for years, Haylamaz begin his new position as editor in-chief of the Kültür Media Group, which owns 24 publishing houses and 11 periodicals. The group and all affiliated publishing houses and periodicals were seized by the government in 2015 on fabricated charges. They were later closed down in July 2016.

Critics of the Erdoğan government abroad, especially members of the Gülen movement, have been facing surveillance, harassment, death threats 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.

 

The 9-page cyber unit report on Haylamaz’s tweets: 

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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.

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.

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