Turkey’s vast network of informants takes toll on Erdoğan critics in Germany

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Secret government documents reveal how Turkey’s campaign to establish a clandestine network of informants among residents of Germany led to the criminal investigation of critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on fabricated charges.

According to the documents, obtained by Nordic Monitor, a pro-Erdoğan expatriate in Germany sent a secret message to an informant line established by Turkey’s Security General Directorate (Emniyet) to transmit information he had collected on critics affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues. The message was conveyed to the cyber crimes unit and later shared with the counterterrorism and Interpol/Europol departments to launch criminal procedures against people named in the message. The prosecutor’s office was also alerted about the tip, which means that the information transmitted from Germany would be used as evidence in sham trials designed to prosecute critics, opponents and dissidents.

Turkey’s informant network in Turkish diaspora communities, especially in Europe, has been expanded greatly since 2014, when Erdoğan found himself incriminated in massive corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013. The corruption case files exposed how Erdoğan and his accomplices enriched themselves in kickbacks, bribery, abuse of power and money laundering schemes for the Iranian regime. When evidence in the form of wiretaps, banking records and video and photo surveillance was revealed, four ministers had to resign from the Erdoğan cabinet.

The Turkish president accused his opponents, mainly members of the Gülen movement at home and in Western countries, of orchestrating the graft probes to oust him from power in what he called a judicial coup. Thousands of judges and prosecutors including those who were involved in the investigation of government officials were dismissed as he initiated an unprecedented crackdown on the movement.

President Erdoğan publicly appealed to his followers and encouraged them to make use of the informant hotline to tell police and prosecutors about his critics. Organizations aligned with Erdoğan in Europe had even run a campaign in 2016, advertising how expatriates should inform Turkey about people whom they knew to be Gülenists. The secret documents indicate Erdoğan’s call found an audience in the large Turkish diaspora in Germany, resulting in the victimization of many Turks who do not share Erdoğan’s Islamist vision and object to his government’s policies.

 

The secret Turkish police cover letter that states the information collected from an informant in Germany was assessed and shared with other branches of government: 

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In this specific case in Germany, the informant, identified in the sender’s line only as S. Yiğit, supplied the names of seven people and provided the address and telephone number for one of them in the message, dated August 4, 2016. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on August 9, 2016 launched an investigation into the people identified by the informant in Germany.

Although the message was shared with other branches of the police department as well as with the prosecutor’s office in 2016, the preliminary investigation was completed almost four years later, according to the paper trail in the file. The delay suggested that the police department might have been overwhelmed with tips coming in from abroad through informants in the diaspora communities, and it took a long time to clear the backlog, or the matter simply fell through the cracks.

In October 2016 the Turkish police announced that the tips it had received on Gülenists had totaled 40,000 in three months, overwhelming the police department.

Whatever the case might be for the delay, Gökhan Nazlım, head of the counterterrorism unit at the Istanbul Police Department, wrote on March 12, 2020 to the chief public prosecutor that the investigation into people listed in the informant’s message had been completed. In the end, the information that was conveyed to Turkey from Germany became part of the evidence in the fabricated criminal prosecution against people targeted by the Erdoğan government.

Critics profiled by the government are subject to surveillance by agents of the Turkish intelligence service abroad and are often denied consular services such as power of attorney and birth registry as well as having their passports revoked. Their assets in Turkey are seized and their family members at home risk criminal charges. This case is an example of how the Turkish government’s call for illegal information collection on critics in a foreign country can have negative effects on the lives of those targeted as well as their family members.

 

Ercan Karakoyun

 

The preliminary report, stamped secret and drafted by the police on March 11, 2020, includes investigations into only three people among the seven reported to Turkey by the informant. It is likely that the investigations into the others were separated from the file, which is not unusual in the Turkish government’s criminal procedures. One of the people identified by the informant is Ercan Karakoyun, executive chairman of Stiftung Dialog und Bildung, an organization that is affiliated with 79-year-old Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish Muslim scholar who is an outspoken critic of the Erdoğan regime. Karakoyun faces an arrest warrant in Turkey over Gülen links, according to the report.

The second German resident targeted by the Erdoğan regime is Halit Esendir, who was president of the Media Ethics Council (MEK), an Istanbul-based advocacy group for professionalism in the media, which was unlawfully shut down by the government in 2016. The journalist was pursued by the Erdoğan government for his critical views and affiliation with the Gülen movement. He is the subject of five outstanding arrest warrants on a range of charges, from defamation of the president to false accusations of terrorism.

 

The secret report about Turkish government critics in Germany who were targeted after an informant sent a letter to Turkish authorities:

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Esendir had been convicted and sentenced to 11 months, 20 days in prison for hinting that Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), was an Iranian agent, based on a scoop he got from a confidential investigation file concerning the clandestine activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in Turkey. He made this remark in an interview he gave to RotaHaber, an independent Turkish news website, on March 25, 2014, when the reporter brought up Fidan’s police record, which indicated that Fidan was developed as an asset in the late 1990s according to an archive seized from the pro-Iran Hizbullah group during a raid on a safe house. RotaHaber was shut down by the Erdoğan government in 2016, and its Editor-in-Chief Ünal Tanık and reporter Ahmet Memiş have been jailed since then. Erdoğan also hushed up the Quds Force investigation in early 2014 and dismissed the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the probe.

 

Halit Esendir

 

Abdullah Aymaz, a Turkish columnist, is another German resident who is being hunted down by the Erdoğan government according to the documents. Five arrest warrants for him were issued on fabricated charges. He was a member of the board of the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), which was shut down by the government in 2016. The GYV is affiliated with the Gülen movement.

The informant also cited three other names in the message he passed to the Turkish government: Rafet Taşkın, Tuncay Kırlı and Kasap Hakan, with a street address and a phone number in Munich. There is no further information with regard to these people in the documents that were obtained by Nordic Monitor. It may very well be that their case files were separated and that an investigation was initiated against these people as well.

 

Abdullah Aymaz

 

The Sabah newspaper, which is owned by President Erdoğan’s family, also operated its own informant line, urging Turks in Germany and other European countries to inform on Gülenists. The newspaper, which functions as propagandist for the Erdogan government, published its email address and phone and WhatsApp numbers in its European edition for those who want to call in to inform on Turks in Europe.

 

The propagandist Sabah daily urged Turks in Europe to spy on Erdoğan government critics.

 

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 165 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.

 

Informer’s secret message to Turkish authorities:

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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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