The Turkish intelligence services have expanded illegal surveillance of critics based in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, documents marked “secret” obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.
The documents, prepared as an intelligence note and dated March 19, 2019, show that Turks resident in various European Union countries are closely monitored due to their critical views of the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Based on the collection of intelligence, Turkish authorities expanded criminal prosecutions against critics and prepared to initiate extradition requests and file Interpol notices.
According to the intelligence notes, Turkish spies have kept close tabs on the movements of 11 critics who are seen affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is led by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Erdoğan’s oppressive rule who lives in the US. The information was obtained from trusted sources, the note underline. The documents were filed under the heading of overseas organizations of the Gülen group, which suggests that they are part of a larger collection of files kept on Gulenists who live abroad.
Some of the notes are quite detailed, including the personal mobile phone numbers used by critics as well as their alleged roles as volunteers in the Gülen movement. Some were apparently tracked as they traveled between countries in Europe, and an explanatory note indicates in which country they currently reside.
Secret police letter that shows Turkish intelligence located the whereabouts of critics abroad:Van1
One of the people who were spied on by Turkish intelligence is Bahattin Karataş, who was determined to have lived in Denmark in the past but is currently residing in Belgium. Karatas, a volunteer and educator affiliated with the movement, had been in the crosshairs of the Turkish security services because of his decades-long work in educating Kurdish children in Turkey’s less developed regions. For years he had worked in the eastern province of Van, helping and tutoring Kurdish children. He helped set up the best private school network in the province under the name of Serhat, providing upward mobility through education for Kurdish children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Now he is in exile in Europe after the Erdoğan government shut down the schools he had built with the help of a volunteer network among Gülenists and others. The schools he had cherished were turned into religious public schools focusing on the teaching of political Islam, the ideology of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The profile note about him says he at one time served as president of the Association for Private Education (Özel Ögretim Dernegi, or Öz Ögret-Der), which was also shut down by the government in 2016 and its assets seized. He is the subject of four outstanding arrest warrants on fabricated terrorism charges.
Two-page Turkish intelligence file on Erdoğan government critics in Europe:van2
Ali Rıza Aksu, another volunteer with the Gülen movement, was listed as a resident of Denmark. Turkish government operatives obtained his personal phone number and added the information collected on him in Denmark to the file in police and intelligence agency records. An arrest warrant for him was issued by a court in Istanbul due to his involvement with the Gülen group.
A Turkish man named Salih Beşir is another person the intelligence files described as living in Denmark. Beşir is a former employee of Sürat Kargo, a carrier service that was part of major conglomerate Kaynak Holding, which was based in Istanbul. Kaynak was the largest publisher in Turkey, which was unlawfully seized by the Erdoğan government on fabricated charges of terrorism in November 2015. Kaynak, a group that operated 22 major companies under its umbrella, was owned and operated by businesspeople who were seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement.
Today, Beşir faces two arrest warrants in Turkey on false charges, just like tens of thousands of other people who are jailed in Turkey for not supporting the Erdoğan government’s political Islamist vision. The fact that he had worked for Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş., the publisher of the Zaman newspaper, was cited as a reason justifying the arrest warrant. Zaman was the most highly circulated newspaper in Turkey, with a circulation of 1.2 million at its peak. It was seized by the government in March 2016 and shut down four months later. He had also served as chairman of the board of intercultural advocacy group the European Bridge Association (Avrupa Köprü Derneği). The association had actively worked to bridge cultures between Turkey and Europe and organized cultural events and education trips to Turkey for European students. The association was also shut down by the Erdoğan government in 2016, when the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society organizations. Over 2,000 NGOs, associations, foundations and unions were closed by the government in 2016 and 2017.
Mahmut Gültekin, another critical Turk, was profiled as a resident of Sweden’s southern city of Malmö, and his volunteer work helping refugees and asylum seekers was recorded in his file. His contact phone numbers were also included. The file on him says he is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office because he had worked for Sürat Kargo, owned by Gulenist businesspeople, at some time in the past.
The Turkish intelligence services monitored the movements of another Turk named Vedat Oğuz when he traveled among the Scandinavian countries. They made a determination that he currently lives in Germany. His file says he was chairman of the board for Danish-based media company Moving Media ApS, which is affiliated with Turkey’s one-time best-selling newspaper, Zaman. Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. His brother Yunus Oğuz was also profiled and recorded as residing in Germany as well. He faces a criminal investigation in Turkey because he had worked for the Sürat publishing company, part of the Kaynak group.
A review of the documents hints that intelligence operations were also conducted in Germany and the Netherlands. Metin Güven and Mustafa Uzun were listed as living near Munich. An arrest warrant was issued for Güven because he worked for a company called Kültür Egitim Yayın Dağıtım Pazarlama ve Ajans A.Ş., which operated in the publishing, sale and distribution of cultural and educational books in Turkey. The company was seized by the government in 2016.
Turkish authorities located İskender Sezek in Berlin, according to the profile data in the intelligence file. Sezek’s membership in a journalists union, Pak Medya İş Sendıkası, which was also shut down by the government in 2016, was cited as a reason for issuing multiple arrest warrants for him. His active use of Twitter was also highlighted as if that were criminal activity. His resume shows him working for Gülen-linked companies and associations such as Sürat Kargo, school textbook publisher Güven Egitim Hizmetleri Ticaret A.Ş. and business association Aktif Sanayiciler ve İşadamları Dernegi. All were closed by the government and their assets seized.
Ziya Bekman was identified as living in the Netherlands, and his phone numbers were listed in the intelligence note. He faces an arrest warrant issued by a judge in Istanbul because he was claimed to be affiliated with the Gülen movement.
Ali Çiçeksay, a businessman from the province of Van, was listed as a fugitive who currently lives in the US. Çiçeksay was prosecuted by Turkish authorities because he made a press statement in December 2014 in front of a courthouse to protest a police raid on the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper, criticizing the government’s crackdown on the independent and free press. During the raid police detained the editor-in-chief of the daily, Ekrem Dumanlı.
What’s more, the Turkish government unlawfully seized Çiçeksay’s firm, Akköprülü A.Ş. He was chairman of a prominent businessmen’s association, Van Aktif Sanayiciler ve İş Adamlan Derneği (Van Aktiv Association for Industrialists and Businesspeople), and was a member of the board at Dogu Anadolu Sanayici ve İşadamları Dernekleri Federasyonu (Condeferation of Eastern Anatolian Industrialists and Businessmen’s Associations) and Türkiye İş Adamları ve Sanayiciler Konfederasyonu (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, or TUSKON). All of them were shut down by the Turkish government.
The detailed information note kept on these people by Turkish intelligence was sent to the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. On March 25, 2019 prosecutor Mehmet Ali Mercanoğlu ordered the Organized Crime and Counter Smuggling Department (KOM) to further investigate the profiled people and to send a detailed report to his office. Two days later Emrah Şahin, deputy head of KOM, sent a new and more detailed investigation report to the prosecutor’s office.
Mercanoğlu sent the report to prosecutor’s offices in seven provinces – Kahramanmaraş, Şanlıurfa, Batman, Konya, İstanbul, Ankara and Van – where the birth registry records of people who were spied on were kept, asking them to use the report as criminal evidence against the critics and to initiate extradition requests and Interpol notices through the courts.
Turkey was criticized in several reports by international bodies for abusing Interpol’s law enforcement mechanisms to silence Erdoğan critics from all segments of Turkish society. According to these reports, Turkey had sought Red Notices for 60,000 or more individuals in 2016. Turkish police also tried to manipulate Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (STLD) database for political purposes, filing fraudulent missing, lost or revoked passports and travel documents for critics and opponents.
Five-page intelligence research report on critics living in Europe and the US:van3
As a result of the abuses, Interpol had to prohibit the use of its communications channels to interact on any issue that concerned the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey because it contravened the provisions of Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution. Article 3 “strictly forbids the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” Additionally, it must deal with ordinary crimes as defined by Article 2 of the constitution.
Critics of the Erdoğan government, 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. Foreign citizens and dual nationals including Americans and Europeans were prosecuted and imprisoned in Turkey on false terrorism charges as the government intensified the crackdown on opposition groups to silence critical voices and suppress the right to dissent.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and 161 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish prisons on terrorism charges, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom, a Swedish-based advocacy group that monitors the cases of jailed 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 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-Erdoğan 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.