Upon a complaint by an associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a judge in Turkey ordered the complete block of a news story by Nordic Monitor that exposed the Turkish government’s links to the al-Shabab terrorist network in Somalia.
Former Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Cemalettin Kani Torun, a political appointee, asked a Turkish court to block access to the posts on Nordic Monitor’s Twitter account and Somali websites that shared the Nordic Monitor article.
Nordic Monitor tweets and its article that focused on Turkey’s support for terrorist organizations have revealed Torun’s alleged links to al-Shabab terrorist leaders.
Bursa 1st Criminal Court of Peace Judge Fatih Mehmet Çamkesen granted the request the same day the complaint was filed by Torun’s lawyer without even giving Nordic Monitor an opportunity to respond to the complaint. The judge also did not review the substance of the article published by Nordic Monitor.
Çamkesen ordered the block not only on Nordic Monitor’s tweets but also news on the Somali Hiiraan Online and Awdal Press on August 20, 2019. The judgement, numbered 2019/5347, agreed with the plaintiff’s claim that the article contained statements insulting Torun and as such his rights had been violated. The decision then was sent for enforcement to Internet service providers in Turkey.
The Twitter thread blocked by the court revealed President Erdoğan’s political and business interests in Somalia in place since 2011 and his activities in the country. The Nordic Monitor posts pointed out that Erdoğan appointed Torun, a doctor and staunch Islamist, as a non-career ambassador to Mogadishu in 2011, and Torun, according to allegations, funneled millions of dollars to Erdoğan’s business associates, secretly met with al-Shabab terrorist leaders and sold them arms until 2014. Torun was rewarded for his services by Erdoğan, who appointed him chief advisor in 2014 and made him a deputy in parliament a year later, tweets indicated.
The three-page judge’s warrant is posted below:Twitter_judge_ban_Nordic
The blocked article on Hiiraan Online, a Somali news website, titled “Turkish Embassy in Somalia promotes Erdoğan-allied corrupt business group Albayrak,” was first published on Nordic Monitor’s website on August 17, 2019. The article exposed how the Albayrak Group, a Turkish conglomerate accused of corrupt practices in Turkey and abroad with the help of the Turkish president, is conducting its projects in Somalia under the auspices of the embassy.
Following the order, another Somali website, Awdalpress, which shared a Nordic Monitor article titled “Operative of Turkey’s spy agency MİT sent $600,000 to al-Shabab in Somalia,” has been suspended. The article underlined that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars to al-Shabab through a former Gitmo detainee.
Nordic Monitor has previously been hit with similar Turkish court judgements . On January 31, 2019 a court in Ankara ordered a block on a Nordic Monitor story that exposed how the Turkish judiciary in January 2019 authenticated a leaked voice recording of Turkish officials. On June 20, 2019 a Nordic Monitor report that revealed Turkish military espionage activities on US and NATO ally troops was also censored.
Torun is not the only Turkish diplomat who sympathized with terrorist organizations and took an active role in President Erdoğan’s relations with these groups. In February 2013 Turkish Ambassador to Chad Ahmet Kavas faced criticism after declaring on Twitter that “Al-Qaeda is very different from terror” and accusing the French of intentionally exaggerating the terrorist threat in Mali. His posts were interpreted by lawmakers and journalists to mean that he viewed the global terror group as a legitimate resistance movement.
“The word ‘terror’ is a French invention. Not the work of Muslims,” he also stated on Twitter as French forces entered Mali in a bid to impede encroaching Islamist fighters. Turkish lawmakers launched a parliamentary inquiry aimed at forcing the ambassador to explain himself and his sympathies for al-Qaeda. It is obvious that his time in Chad needs to be further explored.
Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Turkey’s permanent representative to the UN office in New York and former undersecretary of the foreign ministry, is the highest level diplomat who contributed to Erdoğan’s Syria policy and enhancing relations with extremist groups in the region. According to former Washington correspondent for the Hürriyet daily Tolga Tanış, Sinirlioğlu voiced criticism in 2013 of the designation of al-Nusra as a terrorist organization and told his American counterparts that it was more important to focus on the chaos that the Syrian regime had supposedly created instead of groups such as al-Nusra.
Sinirlioğlu also took an active role in planning the strategy of Turkey’s clandestine intelligence operations in Syria. A Turkish court recently confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio clip in which top-ranking Turkish officials are heard discussing the possibility of an intervention in Syria in a false flag operation conducted by Turkish intelligence agency MİT. In the leaked recording Sinirlioğlu, then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and then-Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler are heard discussing military operations in Syria in Davutoğlu’s foreign ministry office on March 13, 2013. Fidan says in the recording: “If needed, I would dispatch four men to Syria. [Then] I would have them fire eight mortar shells at the Turkish side and create an excuse for war.”
In recent years Turkish society has gone through a radical change, turning from an open society into an Orwellian country governed by radical Islamist authoritarianism. After winning his war against the free media, President Erdoğan launched his campaign against Internet and social media platforms in order to silence alternative news sources. In this process Nordic Monitor had to face the aforementioned court orders that blocked access to its comprehensive reports.
Turkish judges issued their verdicts with reference to Articles 8 and 9 of Law No. 5651 (Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication) in the Nordic Monitor cases.
In fact, Erdoğan’s strategy of blocking the Internet accelerated after the Gezi protests of 2013. The process then took on new momentum after corruption scandals became public knowledge between December 17-25, 2013. Explicit recordings of corruption were broadcast on the Internet. As a result four cabinet ministers had to resign. During that period the partial blackout of the mass media, directly or indirectly controlled by the government –- sometimes through lucrative bids or unexpected tax fines — was mainly bypassed via social media. After a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the aggression of the Erdoğan regime towards the free media peaked, and under a state of emergency declared after the abortive putsch, news agencies, newspapers, television channels, periodicals, publishing houses and radio stations were forcibly closed down by emergency decrees issued by the government.
Turkey’s radical Islamist president has listed social media as one of the main threats to national security. The government has repeatedly suspended access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp on national security grounds, while Wikipedia has been permanently blocked due to articles related to Turkey’s role in the Syrian civil war. According to Freedom House, popular services offering virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Tor anonymity network have been blocked to prevent users from accessing censored content. Turkey also blocked access to WikiLeaks after the group released nearly 300,000 emails from party servers.
Moreover, President Erdoğan’s Turkey did not hesitate to employ geographic blocking methods to restrict access to Internet content based on users’ geographical locations. The most significant obstacle to Internet access in Turkey remained the practice of shutting down telecommunications networks during security operations, mainly in the southeastern part of the country.
In Turkey the blocking and removal of online content is regulated by Law No. 5651, which was previously criticized for its shortcomings by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The law was initially enacted in 2007 to protect children and prevent access to illegal and harmful Internet content, but it has repeatedly been amended to broaden the scope for censorship. The latest amendments authorized ministries to order the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) to block content. The orders are then taken up within four hours by the BTK, which must also submit the decision to a criminal court within 24 hours. If a judge does not validate the decision within 48 hours, the blocking order must be rescinded. Moreover, the law obliges telecommunications providers to enforce government orders within two hours of receiving them as seen in Nordic Monitor cases.
Furthermore, Turkish intelligence agency MİT received expanded powers to conduct surveillance after the Gezi protests. With the new law on intelligence services, MİT received unfettered access to communications data without a court order. The 2016 coup attempt prompted a new wave of surveillance as part of the broader purge of individuals with alleged links to “banned” groups. More than 100,000 social media accounts have been put under surveillance since July 2016. Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have been arbitrarily detained for their alleged use of the communications app ByLock without court decisions. The ByLock app was once available to download at no cost from the Apple and Google app stores until it was removed by the developer.
Turkey has also pressured Twitter and Facebook to remove the content of social media messages. According to Twitter’s latest Transparency Report, which covered the July 1, 2017-Dec. 31, 2017 period, Turkey issued 466 court orders for removal requests, while the number for the rest of the world combined was 47. In other words, 91 percent of censorship requests in the form of court judgements came from only one country, Turkey. This shows how the Turkish judiciary has been politicized and subordinated to the executive branch of government.