A hacker who works as a cybersecurity consultant in Turkey unlawfully obtained the password for the social media account of a government critic with no repercussions despite the fact that he had broken multiple laws in doing so.
According to documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Mehmet Çelik, a computer expert, hacked into the Twitter account of a man named Sadettin Başer, who is affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group that is opposed to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After he obtained the password, Çelik wrote to Erdoğan’s office, saying he had hacked into Başer’s account and would work on hacking into other critics’ social media accounts as well.
Although Çelik, a private citizen who has no official authority, violated multiple Turkish laws that protect privacy and communication, Turkish authorities ignored his illegal hacking and instead focused on prosecuting the critic. Çelik describes himself on his Instagram account as a cyber security expert involved in cyber intelligence, web security and ethical hacking.
Başer, 76, a dual Turkish-Turkmen citizen who has been living abroad for years, was targeted by the hacker when his name and photos were plastered all over pro-government dailies as part of the Erdoğan government’s defamation campaign in 2015. It appears the hacker decided to take matters into his own hands by hacking his account and sharing the password he stole with the president’s office.
Hacker’s letter to the president’s office that explains how he had hacked into the Twitter account of a government critic:Sadettin_Baser_Hacked_note_Cimer
In a letter he sent to the Presidential Communications Center (Cumhurbaşkanlığı İletişim Merkezi, CİMER) on February 24, 2017, Çelik wrote: “I hacked the account of Sadettin Başer, one of the Gülenists. I will deal with others as well. I will forward the accounts where I made progress [in hacking] here [CIMER]. Greetings.”
Instead of launching a probe into the unlawful hacking of a citizen, Erdoğan’s office sent the letter to the counterterrorism bureau at the Security General Directorate (Emniyet), the main law enforcement agency in Turkey, on February 27, 2017 to investigate the victim rather than the perpetrator who unlawfully obtained the password of a critic.
The chief public prosecutor’s office in Izmir, where the hacker lives, launched a criminal probe into Başer in 2018 and asked the police to look into him. The police report drafted on November 12, 2020 on Başer listed him as living in Turkmenistan without any evidence suggesting he was involved in any criminal matters. The report was later submitted to the prosecutor’s office.
The report and letter were later forwarded to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. On July 12, 2021 prosecutor Sultan Çavundurluoğlu submitted the documents to the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court, asking the judges to accept the documents as criminal evidence against Başer.
The entire saga represents how the rule of law in Turkey has effectively been suspended when the perpetrator of a crime illegally targets a government critic and acts with complete impunity. Instead of the perpetrator, the victim of the illegal hacking faced repercussions under the abusive criminal justice system, which is often manipulated by the government to punish opponents, dissidents and critics.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry document, dated September 27, 2016 and obtained by Nordic Monitor, shows that the Turkish Embassy in Ashkabat gathered intelligence on Başer and sent it to Ankara. Başer had long lived in Turkmenistan, acquired Turkmen citizenship in 2005 and later moved to the United Arab Emirates, according to the report.
Turkish government document that shows the victim of a hack was targeted while the perpetrator was granted impunity:Illegal_Hacking_Turkey_mobilization
Başer is a businessman, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He had spent years in Russia and Central Asian countries, establishing schools linked to the movement.
The Gülen movement is a group known for its investment in science, education and the promotion of interfaith and intercultural dialogue around the world. It is led by Fethullah Gülen, an outspoken critic of the Turkish president for pervasive corruption in the government and Erdoğan’s support for jihadist groups in Syria. Erdoğan accuses the movement of being behind corruption investigations in 2013 and a coup attempt in July 2016, allegations the movement denies.
More than a half million people were investigated in Turkey on similar charges following the abortive putsch in 2016. Based on profiling lists, people were arrested, investigated and even prosecuted. Their assets were seized, and their family members and relatives were also the subject of criminal charges. Working as a teacher in Gülen-inspired schools or contributing to non-profit institutions affiliated with the movement abroad are considered to be acts of terrorism by the Erdoğan government.
With the purge and/or imprisonment of 4,560 judges and prosecutors in the 2016-2017 period, the rule of law was effectively suspended and the Turkish judiciary was transformed into a tool of the government, which often abuses the criminal justice system to punish its critics and opponents on terrorism charges.
Documents from the prosecutor’s offices in Ankara and Izmir that show the hacking of Başer’s Twitter account was listed as criminal evidence against him:Sadettin_Baser_prosecution_Turkey_bogus_charges