Turkey’s relentless campaign to hunt down critics of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan abroad reached as far as Austria, documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
The documents, comprising an indictment drafted by public prosecutor Okan Bato and a letter sent to Austria by judge Kenan Arslanboğan, show that Turkish authorities had located the address of a 52-year-old Turkish national who was resident in Austria. The targeted person was sought on terrorism-related charges, accusations with which the Erdoğan government has been quick to label opponents and dissidents including journalists and human rights defenders as part of a campaign to silence critical views in Turkey. The documents, originally in Turkish, were translated into German and sent to Austria.
The translated version of documents that were sent to Austria:MUhammet_altan1
Muhammet Altan was accused of making a donation to the Gülen movement, a group critical of the Turkish government, and was charged in absentia with membership in a terrorist organization and providing it with funding. Adherents of the Gülen movement, led by a US-based Turkish Muslim scholar named Fethullah Gülen, who has been criticizing Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism and corrupt politics, have long been ruthlessly persecuted by the Erdoğan government.
Although Altan was prosecuted in absentia for his political views and personal beliefs, Turkish judge Arslanbogan claimed in his July 2019 letter that his requests of Austrian authorities to question and detain Altan did not discriminate for reasons of race, religion, gender or political or ideological opinion.
The judge claimed Turkey does not discriminate or punish anybody for their political views:Muhammet_Altan2
According to an indictment dated June 28, 2016 and part of investigation no. 2015/64148, Altan’s name and phone number appeared on a photocopied notebook page seized by police during the search of a suspect’s house. The handwritten notes on the document suggests that Altan donated a qurban (sacrifice of an animal during Eid al-Adha) in the amount of 260 Turkish lira (equivalent to some 80 euros according to the exchange rate in effect at the time).
Citing this donation as criminal evidence, public prosecutor Bato indicted Altan on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and providing finance thereto pursuant to the relevant provisions of the Turkish Penal Code and the Law on Countering Terrorism Financing. The indictment does not disclose the exact date of the donation; nevertheless, it indicates that the crime was committed somewhere between 2000 and 2014.
The evidence against Altan is a donation valued at 80 euros:Muhammet_altan3
The indictment further shows that an arrest warrant was issued for Altan on January 4, 2016. He could not be detained in Turkey since he was living in Austria, resulting in the issuance of a subpoena on July 11, 2019, with which the Turkish judge requested through diplomatic channels the detention and questioning of Altan from Austrian authorities. However, it is not known how the Austrian authorities reacted to the request.
Erdoğan began to target adherents of the movement after two massive corruption and graft investigations in December 2013, which implicated him, his son and four ministers along with other prominent figures from his government and support base.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist conspiracy aimed at overthrowing his rule, he hushed up the investigations, designated the movement as an armed terrorist organization and seized Gülen-affiliated media outlets, private financial institution Bank Asya and businesses owned partially by people affiliated with the movement.
Events took a turn for the worse when a group of soldiers calling themselves the “Peace at Home Council” attempted to oust the Erdogan government with an attempted coup on July 15, 2016 that was foiled overnight. Seeing the opportunity presented by the coup attempt, which he called “a gift from God” and which he accused Gülen of masterminding, an accusation repeatedly denied by Gülen, Erdoğan declared an all-out war against anything and anyone who had the slightest connection to the movement.
From then on his motto, “Show them no mercy,” would define his actions towards people affiliated with the movement. In this anti-Gülenist frenzy Turkish prosecutors have investigated more than 500,000 people, while Turkish courts have arrested nearly 100,000 individuals on allegations of terrorism due to their assumed links to the Gülen movement. The assets of individuals and entities affiliated with the movement which, according to estimates from Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), amounted to $11 billion, were expropriated.
In identifying individuals’ links to the movement, the Erdoğan government developed such criteria as using a smartphone application called ByLock, owning an account in the Gülen-movement-affiliated Bank Asya, sending a son or a daughter to a Gülen operated school, subscribing to the Zaman daily newspaper or other perceived Gülenist periodicals, making monetary or qurban donations to the movement, organizing charity events to the benefit of the group and the like, based on which tens of thousands people were put behind bars.
The Erdoğan government also expanded this witch hunt abroad. According to numbers provided by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğluon on November 14, 2018, the government had requested the extradition of 452 people from 83 countries due to their alleged ties to the Gülen movement. Çavuşoğlu said that with the cooperation of 21 countries, a total of 104 alleged members of the Gülen movement had been extradited to Turkey to date.
“We continue to pursue a resolute fight with FETÖ both at home and abroad,” Çavuşoğlu told the Turkish parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee, referring to the Gülen movement. “We are pursuing FETÖ terrorists wherever they are in the world. We will bring FETÖ members to justice and hold them accountable,” he added.
“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by the Islamist President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.
As part of this witch hunt six Turkish nationals – teachers Cihan Özkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Hüseyin Günakan, Mustafa Erdem and Yusuf Karabina — who were working for a group of schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in Kosovo — along with Dr. Osman Karakaya, were extrajudicially rendered to Turkey on March 29, 2018 in a clandestine operation by the Turkish intelligence service with the complicity of Kosovar authorities.
In March 2018 Switzerland started a criminal investigation into two Turkish diplomats who allegedly planned to drug and kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman linked to the movement, Reuters reported. A recent report by Nordic Monitor revealed how Denmark-based Turkish journalist Hasan Cücük was given protection in a safe house by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service when it detected a serious threat to his life emanating from a group contracted by MIT.