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Freedom of Speech

Disappearance of Saudi Journalist in Istanbul Consulate Stuns Whole World

The disappearance or alleged murder of a critical Saudi journalist in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has created shockwaves across the world and sent a chilling echo for other Saudi dissidents across the region.

According to the Turkish authorities, Jamal Khashoggi has been killed by Saudi agents and his body was dismembered. Riyadh has categorically denied those allegations and pledged to work with the Turkish officials for a robust and thorough investigation to enlighten the incident.

The international community, already dismayed and alarmed by acts of the increasing violence against members of the media world, is, quite understandably, rattled by the startling case of Khashoggi. And it came after INTERPOL’s Chinese president’s arrest in China, adding a new layer of anxiety over the international fallout of domestic political score-settling.

If the Turkish claims about murder are true, it represents completely a new phase in the crackdown on critical journalists. The venue of the incident, a consulate, serves as a stark reminder for dissidents living abroad about the stakes of any form of engagement or contact with an official body of their home country. No critic would feel safe to enter a consulate or a diplomatic compound of a given country, without having second thoughts after the Khashoggi incident.

The Turkish government appeared appalled and therefore reacted in indignation against the Saudi act breaching diplomatic norms in blatant disregard of the friendly relationship that mostly defined the nature of bilateral ties between the two powers of the Middle East.

Still, the case remains to be a matter of puzzling mystery, with both Turkish and Saudi sides lacking credibility to bolster their narratives. While pro-government media and some anonymous Turkish security sources were quick to squarely pin the blame on the Kingdom, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has struck a measured and cautious tone, refraining from finger-pointing at Riyadh.

Khashoggi was last seen on Saturday. His fiancee Hatice Cengiz told media that he went to the Consulate but never showed up again. The Turkish media released video footage of a group of people believed to be Saudi agents were specifically assigned by Riyadh to kill and remove the journalist’s body. But the Turkish authorities did never offer evidence to back up their claims, while the Saudi side also stumbled in its account of the story by failing to prove Khashoggi’s departure from the Consulate via camera footage.

The issue has expectedly unsettled Turkey’s political landscape and created an uproar. But,
considering Turkey’s own dismal record in mind, Ankara’s concerns for morality and norms ring hollow and seem self-contradictory. Steven Cook, writing for Foreign Policy, addressed such moral contradictions in a recent op-ed.

Not long ago, Turkey’s intelligence operatives, in cooperation with local security agency, conducted a bold operation in Moldova to snatch a group of teachers linked with a civil society movement critical of President Erdogan’s rule.

Here a question emerges. Where did the Saudi regime get such confidence to push the boundaries of handling with critics with that extreme path? The question appears more pertinent after bearing Turkey’s similar operations in mind. It is no exaggeration, after all, to meditate that it was Ankara’s brutal clampdown on opponents at home and abroad with all means available that would have encouraged Riyadh to execute the murder or steered the disappearance act in its consulate in Turkey, but not somewhere else.

In this respect, Turkey’s own practices might plausibly have emboldened Saudi Arabia. Turkey used its own embassy in Kosovo to spirit Gulen-affiliated teachers away from the country. Similar methods also took place in Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia and Gabon where Turkey’s diplomatic compounds served as launchpads for conducting operations. Both Ankara’s use of its diplomatic facilities as a cover to disguise its intelligence operations and the disappearance of a journalist in Saudi Consulate in Istanbul mark a new step in countries’ zealous haunt for critics living abroad.

For dissidents, as Cook and all other commentators opined, the message is disheartening and worrisome. Nowhere is safe for free-minded and critical people. The whole world, especially the Western countries with strong democratic traditions, must lend additional voice to condemn, denounce and criticize the disappearance of the Saudi journalist at a diplomatic compound.

Unless the whole world unites in their strong condemnation, the Istanbul incident would set a terrible precedent for future behaviors of autocratic governments in dealing with dissident citizens abroad.

In conclusion, an act of crackdown, overseas operations to target dissidents abroad and the use of diplomatic compounds for such operations would no doubt set an example or a source of inspiration for other authoritarian regimes to follow through. In Istanbul, all contours of such a possibility were abundantly present and pointed. To stop this learning process through copy-past practices from one another’s authoritarian playbook, a collective international response and cooperation is a must, and a long overdue effort that is urgently needed to be employed.

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Turkish Gov’t Detained 845 People To Date Over Critical Stance On Afrin Offensive

Turkey’s Interior Ministry on Monday announced that 845 people have been detained on terror charges due to their protests or posts on social media critical of a Turkish military incursion in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Meanwhile, two construction workers who went to İzmir Adnan Menderes Airport on Feb. 23 to fly to their hometown of Diyarbakır were detained by police after officers seized their mobile phones and checked their social media accounts, the Evrensel daily reported on Monday.

The workers, Nazım Toplu and Ahmet Polat, were stopped by the police after they arrived at the airport on the grounds that they looked suspicious. They underwent criminal record checks (GBT), and the police found that they were not the subject of any investigation.

Yet, the police officers asked the workers to open their Facebook accounts when the workers were about to board their plane. The workers refused and said it was illegal for them to ask this. Then, the police officers seized the workers’ mobile phones and entered their social media accounts from the phones.

The police officers detained the workers due to their social media accounts. It was not clear what messages the workers had posted, but nowadays the detention of individuals due to their critical messages on social media about the government or Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is very common.

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The despotic Turkish government and autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have reacted strongly to people who oppose the operation, and prosecutor’s offices have initiated investigations into those who share social media messages critical of the operation.

President Erdoğan on Jan. 21 warned the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) not to take to the streets to protest the operation in Afrin: “You are being closely followed. If you try to take to the streets, know that our security forces will be at your neck.”

“If anyone is in the streets upon calls [from the HDP], they will pay dearly for it. This is a national fight, and whoever opposes us will be crushed,” Erdoğan added.

Kral FM radio host Ali Şentürk, known as “Afrikalı Ali,” called on security forces to kill anybody who criticizes Turkey’s operation in Afrin.

Yusuf Ozan, a presenter for the pro-government Akit TV, last Sunday targeted the Cumhuriyet daily over a story it ran on the Afrin operation in Syria, saying Cumhuriyet journalists deserve to be executed.

Source:
https://stockholmcf.org/turkish-govt-detained-845-people-to-date-over-critical-stance-on-afrin-offensive/

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Turkish Police To Journalist: If You Don’t Speak, We’ll Throw You Off Balcony

Turkish police have reportedly raided the house of journalist Buğrahan Aydoğan in Çorlu district of Tekirdağ province on Sunday night for the second time to detain him and allegedly threatened him before detention by saying that “If you do not speak, we will throw you off the balcony. And in the police report, we would write that when he saw the police, he jumped from the balcony and committed suicide.”

Aydoğan, who used to work as a provincial representative of a national newspaper before the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, was released after 160 days of imprisonment over an unfounded denunciation. After being released, he has reportedly been worked in various jobs including stall-holder in order to be able to adapt to his life.

However, a large number of police have reportedly launched an operation in Aydoğan’s house on Sunday midnight. Aydoğan’s family members have shared what they have experienced during the police raid on their Twitter account and wrote as follows:

“On February 25, 2018, at 00:30, Buğrahan Aydoğan opened the door without wasting time as the door was knocked very hard. He was very surprised to see the police again. Seven policemen entered the house with their shoes as they were insulting him at the same time.

“After locking Buğrahan in one of the rooms, the police officers searched the apartment. With the anger of being unable to find anything they handcuffed Buğrahan’s hands behind his back.

“The fattest police officer got Buğrahan Aydoğan on the ground and started to jump on him. The police started hitting his head with a laptop brought from the other room. They said something unclear such as ‘Talk to me! Where are the money you collected?’

“They said that ‘If you do not speak, we will throw you off the balcony. And in the police report, we would write that when he saw the police, he jumped from the balcony and committed suicide.’ When Buğrahan Aydoğan asked what the crime he committed, he was insulted as ‘triator, terrorist…’

“When all this happened, they didn’t take anyone from the family to the room. With the stream of insults they detained Buğrahan Aydogan.

“Buğrahan Aydogan is now in the custody of police headquarter in Çorlu district of Tekirdağ province and has not allowed to meet his lawyer. We are concerned about the ill-treatment for Buğrahan.”

Source:
https://stockholmcf.org/turkish-police-to-journalist-if-you-dont-speak-well-throw-you-off-balcony/

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Family of visually impaired journalist says his whereabouts are unknown

The family of visually impaired Turkish journalist Cüneyt Arat, who has been jailed over alleged ties to the Gülen movement since July 10, 2017, announced on Saturday that they could not find Arat in his ward in Tarsus Prison and that they have not been given any information about his whereabouts.

Arat was sentenced on Feb. 22, 2017 to six years, three months in prison on charges of membership in the Gülen movement while also getting 10 months, 15 days for allegedly promoting a “terrorist” organization.

He was put behind bars after an upper court upheld one of his convictions, on July 10, 2017. Arat, who is 90 percent visually disabled, had stated that he was first sent to Tarsus Prison and later transferred to the Mersin E-type Closed Prison.

His family members tweeted on Saturday that Arat wanted to be sent to Ankara. Although Arat reportedly told his family during their last phone call to him that “I saw the director. He told me that If I do not want, They will not send me anywhere,” he could not be reached on Saturday. His family members have stated that they are worried about Arat’s health and wellbeing.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF shows that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Feb. 22, 2018. Of those in prison, 205 are in pretrial detention, while only 35 have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Source:
https://www.turkishminute.com/2018/02/25/family-of-visually-impaired-journalist-says-his-whereabouts-are-unknown/

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Wedding singers put in pretrial detention over songs in Kurdish language

An Istanbul court ruled for the arrest of wedding singers İhsan Acet and İnayet Şarkıç over Kurdish-language songs they played during a wedding ceremony last week.

Hikmet Akyol, the father of the groom was put in pretrial detention as well.

Detained during the ceremony on Feb 18, the trio spent 6 days under custody to be formally accused on charges of making propaganda on behalf of a terror group on Feb 24.

The government has recently intensified pressure against the Kurdish minority in the country. While Kurdish majority cities were turned upside down with consecutive military attacks, hundreds of Kurdish politicians were jailed. Hundreds of academics, teachers were also rounded up over broadened terror charges.

Source:
https://turkeypurge.com/wedding-singers-put-pretrial-detention-songs-kurdish-language

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Rights defender Gergerlioğlu gets 2.5 year prison sentence on terror charges

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, one of Turkey’s most renowned human rights activists and former president of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (Mazlumder), has been handed down a prison sentence of two-and-a-half years on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

The verdict was decided by the Kocaeli 2nd High Criminal Court on Wednesday where Gergerlioğlu was standing trial on charges of involvement in terrorist propaganda.

Gergerlioğlu was tried because of his messages on social media that called for the end of years-long clashes between the Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The court ruled that Gergerlioğlu’s messages on social media were tantamount to praising the activities of the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that encompasses the PKK.

In a message posted to his personal blog on Wednesday, Gergerlioğlu commented on the court ruling and said throughout his life he has defended human rights, rejected conflict, supported dialogue and reconciliation and defended everyone’s right without discrimination.

“At a time when the law has been shelved, I do not accept this very unjust ruling, and I leave it to the conscience of the nation. I will continue my struggle so that [people of] all identities and views can enjoy human rights and a free life,” he wrote.

Gergerlioğlu also said that at a time when unbelievable acts of tyranny are taking place in the country, he would not lose his hope about the end of this period and continue his efforts to maintain the rule of law.

Gross human rights violations have been taking place in Turkey since a failed coup attempt in July 2016 as the Turkish government has launched a massive witch-hunt to punish its critics under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Gergerlioğlu has been a vocal critic of the government’s ongoing crackdown on regular citizens. He frequently brings rights violations experienced by the government’s victims to public attention.

Gergerlioğlu, who is a doctor by profession, was also fired from his job at a public hospital by a government decree in January 2017.

Source:
https://turkeypurge.com/rights-defender-gergerlioglu-gets-2-5-year-prison-sentence-terror-charges

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Turkish government’s ‘Global Purge’ targeted opponents in at least 46 countries

Turkish government has pursued an aggressive policy to silence its perceived enemies in at least 46 countries across four continents, as part of its post-coup crackdown, a Foreign Affairs article noted Monday. The Turkish government has been hunting its opponents abroad, particularly the supporters of the Gulen movement since before and after the failed putsch on July 15, 2016, the article said adding that government’s alleged enemies were targeted at least in 46 countries.

Elaborating on the purge abroad, the magazine said: “Ankara has revoked thousands of passports, and achieved the arrest, deportation, or rendition of hundreds of Turkish citizens from at least 16 countries, including many who were under UN protection as asylum seekers. It has successfully pressured at least 20 countries to close or transfer to new owners dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Gulen movement schools.”

Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding the 2016 failed coup while the latter denies involvement. More than 150,000 has passed through police custody while over a one-third of those were remanded in prison over Gulen links in Turkey. More than 3,000 schools, dormitories, and universities were shuttered while over 1,000 companies were seized at home.

While the article presents an in-depth insight into the chronological relations between the movement and Turkey’s governments in the recent history, it says the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government labeled the group as a terrorist organization before waging an all-out war against it.

Deportations

“Since the failed coup attempt, Turkey has exerted diplomatic pressure on various governments to arrest or deport hundreds of individuals from around the world. By my count, 15 countries have arrested or deported various representatives of the movement, ranging from supposed financiers to schoolteachers. Those countries include Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkmenistan. …In at least three cases—Kazakhstan, Myanmar, and Sudan—individuals appear to have been turned over to Turkey without judicial proceedings, perhaps through the operation of a special National Intelligence Organization unit that Turkey’s state news agency says was established to track down “high-value” Gulenists. There have also been multiple cases in which those deported were apparently seeking asylum and thus had protected status at the time they were sent to Turkey: news reports say this was the case in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov admitted that the August 2016 deportation of a software engineer who had applied for asylum before the coup attempt was “on the edge of the law.” In other cases, like in Angola, Pakistan, and Qatar, there were mass deportations following the closure of Gulen schools.”

Also, pro-government commentators, such as Cem Kucuk, have talked casually about how MIT should kill members of the Gulen movement abroad, the magazine reported.

Closure of schools abroad

“The movement’s schools are under extreme pressure in the global purge,” the article highlighted before detailing the pressure on Gulenists’ overseas facilities: “Since its falling-out with the Gulenist movement in 2013, the government has been pressing other countries to shutter the schools. The Gambia closed its Gulen schools in April 2014. Turkey’s close ally Azerbaijan followed soon thereafter and Tajikistan shut down its Gulen schools in 2015. But elsewhere in the world, these schools largely remained open until the coup attempt of July 2016, after which Turkey increased the pressure. The results were quick. Schools were almost immediately closed in Jordan, Libya, and Somalia. Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Morocco, and Tanzania followed suit in early 2017. Before the year was out, Afghanistan, Chad, Georgia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, and Tunisia had all closed or transferred schools.

Pressure extends beyond Gulenists

Not only the supporters of the movement have been targeted, the article said, adding that all alleged government enemies within and outside Turkey were affected.

“In fact, 31 percent of all those arrested in government operations under the state of emergency, which has been in place since October 2016, were associated with Kurdish or leftist groups, according to official figures compiled by iHop, a Turkish human rights monitoring group. Nearly 400 academics who signed a petition before the coup attempt calling for peace between the state and the PKK in January 2016 have also been fired, and some have left Turkey or remained abroad. Others who have been convicted or charged while outside the country now fear traveling because of the threat of detention due to Interpol notices.”

“The global purge has also touched Interpol. In December, the AP reported that Interpol representatives were examining up to 40,000 extradition requests, some perhaps from Turkey, for possible political abuse. The report came after a number of high-profile cases involving Turks abroad, including Dogan Akhanli, a left-wing writer with dual German and Turkish citizenship who was arrested and forced to remain in Spain for two months while Spanish authorities assessed Turkey’s extradition request.”

Sources:
https://turkeypurge.com/report-turkish-governments-global-purge-targeted-opponents-least-46-countries
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/turkey/2018-01-29/remarkable-scale-turkeys-global-purge?cid=int-fls&pgtype=hpg

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70 Thousand Students Arrested in Turkey

The big arrest waves of students started with the Gezi protests in 2013, following with the 17-25 corruption scandals in 2013 and has now reached its peak with the July 15th failed coup attempt. Police and gendarmerie are strictly controlling young people. Students who use the right of objection and protest are immediately taken to and later arrested by the magistrates’ courts.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s response to the motion made by CHP MP Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi, 69 thousand 301 students remain arrested since September 2017. Most of these arrests are arbitrary and does not have any substantial support. For instance, some students at the Adnan Menderes University were arrested for performing traditional Kurdish dances. Students arrested with decree-laws are taken away their right to study, read books and take exams.

Sources:
http://aktifhaber.com/egitim/turkiyede-70-bin-tutuklu-ogrenci-var-h111058.html
http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/egitim/856384/70_bin_ogrenci_hapiste.html

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Turkey: Media, Activists, Political Opposition Targeted

Turkey increased restrictions on the media, political opposition, and human rights defenders during 2017, on the back of a very narrow referendum, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Turkey also introduced a presidential system with insufficient democratic checks and balances against the president’s abuse of power. “Everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Under the state of emergency, the government has failed to provide redress for the over 100,000 civil servants dismissed, as well as hundreds of media outlets, associations, and other institutions closed down.

Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/18/turkey-media-activists-political-opposition-targeted

Report: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/turkey

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