The Turkish Embassy in Belgium engaged in a campaign of intelligence gathering and collected information on the activities of critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
According to the official documents, Turkish nationals were profiled by the Turkish diplomatic missions in the country and reported to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. The information was later sent to the Afyonkarahisar Police Department to build a case against critics of the Erdoğan regime. The file fabricated in the Turkish Embassy triggered many criminal prosecutions on charges of terrorism.
In Belgium the majority of immigrants with a Turkish background come from the western Anatolian province of Afyonkarahisar.
Information gathered by Turkish diplomats in Belgium was conveyed on June 24, 2019 to the Afyonkarahisar Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office by Arif Alpaslan, deputy chief of the counterterrorism department of the Afyonkarahisar Police Department, to initiate criminal proceeding against a Turkish national who was named by the Turkish Embassy in Brussels. The confidential police communiqué also included the residence address of the critic in Belgium.
Police document dated June 24, 2019 reveals the spying on critics in Belgium by the Turkish Embassy. (The address and name of the Turkish national have been redacted for security concerns):Belgium_profiling_diplomat
According to a note attached to the documents, the Turkish national was accused of serving as a steering committee member of an NGO that is believed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement, a vocal critic of the Erdoğan regime for pervasive corruption in the government and Erdoğan’s arming and funding of radical groups in Syria and Libya.
Moreover, the critic is flagged as a criminal because they had deposits at Bank Asya, once the largest Islamic lender in Turkey and one of its biggest private banks until it was unlawfully seized by the government in May 2015. In the note, downloading ByLock, once a publicly available smart phone messaging application, was also defined as an act of terrorism.
The documents expose clandestine spying activity in Belgian territory that targets critics as part of President Erdoğan’s long arm and campaign of intimidation to suppress dissenting voices. Moreover, the attached note lays bare how criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials were conducted in Turkey. It confirms that the Turkish judicial system is no longer impartial, credible or independent as indicated by several landmark decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in favor of government critics.
Information note sent by the Afyonkarahisar police to the chief public prosecutor’s office:
Nordic Monitor previously reported on official correspondence from the Turkish Foreign Ministry that revealed how Turkish embassies and consulates have become tools of spying in the hands of Turkey’s Islamist rulers. The correspondence includes two CDs, the first of which contains information about the leading critics of the Erdoğan regime, while the second CD consists of details of the structure of the Gülen movement in each country and a full list of people believed to be affiliated with the movement. Those documents exposed the Belgian part of the spying activities by Turkish diplomats abroad.
According to judicial documents released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019, the foreign ministry had compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who are seen as close to the movement in 92 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania.
In Turkey, over half a million people affiliated with the Gülen movement have been put in detention facilities on similar charges in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. Based on profiling lists, people were arrested, investigated and even prosecuted in Turkey. Their assets were seized, and family members and relatives were also the subject of criminal charges. More than 130,000 civil servants have been dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation since the coup attempt.
Representatives of several Belgian NGOs, intercultural dialogue centers, human right institutions, youth and women’s associations, local schools, culture houses and non-profit and volunteer organizations were also indicted on dubious terrorism charges by a Turkish prosecutor, Nordic Monitor reported on May 7.
According to the indictment submitted by public prosecutor Mehmet Ersin Berber to the Konya 9th High Criminal Court, critics of President Erdoğan in Belgium and their organizations that were duly authorized and licensed under local law are described as terrorist entities in clear contradiction to the perspective of Belgian authorities.
It is clear that Turkish diplomatic missions violate the domestic laws of receiving states and the principles of international law by conducting unlawful information-gathering campaigns and sweeping intelligence operations. Erdoğan’s envoys enjoyed the privileges and immunities described in the international conventions while they systematically spied on critics of the president, collected information on Turks living abroad and transmitted it to headquarters.
The immunities and privileges of diplomats and consular staff are governed by international conventions. However, diplomats enjoying the privileges and immunities described in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state and to avoid interfering in its internal affairs as detailed in Article 41. Similarly, consular staff are granted limited privileges and immunities by the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, but the host state authorities can start investigations and prosecute any of the personnel if they perpetrate crimes inside or outside the consulate premises, according to Article 43 of the convention.