by Abdullah Bozkurt
The Turkish government under autocratic president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s perpetual emergency rule last week expanded its definition of terrorism by calling the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) “accomplices of terror” and “pawns of foreign powers.”
Considering that the CHP received 12.2 million votes (25 percent of the electorate) in the highly unfair election of Nov. 1, 2015, millions of people are considered by Turkey’s Islamist dictator to be “terrorists.”
Let’s recall that the co-chairpersons of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and some dozen lawmakers from the same party are jailed on terror charges as well. That adds another 5.2 million people to the Turkish government’s ‘terror.”
This is only on the political side of the spectrum. The Erdoğan government has already declared peaceful and law-abiding but critical group the Gülen movement members ‘terrorists” and has jailed over 50,000 people on trumped-up terror charges in the last 11 months alone.
Against this background, Erdoğan’s henchmen in the Turkish delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) proposed an urgent debate on terrorism at last week’s session. This hypocritical move, led by Talip Küçükcan, a theologian who is one of Erdoğan’s chief propagandists, was clandestinely designed to embarrass Europe for backing Erdoğan’s critics, who the Turkish government considers to be ‘terrorists,” and abuse the PACE plenary to advance Erdoğan’s hateful and xenophobic narrative.
It backfired and blew up in the faces of Küçükcan and other lackeys who wanted to please Erdoğan. During the debate on June 29, 2017, titled “Europe’s common fight against terrorism: successes and failures,” European lawmakers from various countries stood up one by one and exposed Turkish government hypocrisy of labeling his critics as terrorists. I want to acknowledge them by quoting what they said to the faces of Turkish deputies from the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Danish politician from the Liberal Party Michael Aastrup Jensen, who is also the vice chairperson of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said: “Although, on one hand, I salute the Turkish delegation for taking up this issue, I must also say frankly that there are problems in Turkey. There are problems in a democratic country such as Turkey when the fight against terrorism is used as an excuse for labeling a lot of people terrorist sympathizers. We have seen mass arrests of ordinary people, perhaps just because they downloaded a Gülen app or something. That must not stand in a European country that calls itself democratic. That is not the way forward. That only ends up creating a breeding ground for terrorist organizations and radical views, and it must stop.”
Jensen highlighted an absolutely terrific point that tens of thousands of people are locked up in Turkey because they downloaded a WhatsApp-like messaging application called ByLock that was publicly available on Google Play. This is what David Kaye, the UN Freedom of Opinion and Expression special rapporteur, described as the “criminalization of encryption” in his damning report on Turkey released during the special session on Turkey as part of the UN Human Rights Sessions in Geneva. The application that Reuters called an unsecure chatting program based on dozens of expert opinions was nevertheless touted as a highly secretive messaging service identifying coup plotters and members of the Gülen movement.
Yet the Turkish government did not present any incriminating content on communications allegedly used by tens of thousands of people. Simply downloading the program is enough to charge somebody with terrorism, even if that broadband was used by more than one person in the household or the business. In several bizarre cases, suspects who owned archaic mobile phone that are not capable of downloading or installing smart phone apps were also charged with terror on purported ByLock evidence.
Many believe the Turkish government just made up this hoax, engineered so-called evidence based on the profiling of unsuspecting innocent citizens by the notorious Turkish intelligence. Aydın Sefa Akay, a UN judge on the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) who has immunity, was arrested on ByLock charges and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years on terror claims despite a strong protest by the UN.
Picking up after Jensen, spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left Nikolaj Villumsen delivered a speech critical of Turkey, saying that he had been declared a “terrorist” by the Turkish president because he was one of the election observers who wrote a critical report on Turkey’s April 16 referendum, which gave Erdoğan imperial powers without any check and balances.
“I had the honor of being invited to participate in this assembly’s delegation to observe the Turkish referendum. As you are all aware, that referendum did not live up to democratic standards. When the delegation said that, President Erdoğan clearly became angry with us. All of a sudden, despite having been invited to Turkey by Erdoğan’s government, I was pointed at as a terrorist, as was one of my colleagues.”
He further added that “Luckily, I am not a parliamentarian in Turkey. If I were, I would probably be in jail right now, as many of our colleagues are. I am a parliamentarian in Denmark, so I can stand here today and tell my story, which shows that the fight against terror is not taken seriously in Turkey. It is misused to jail the opposition.”
Villumsen concluded by saying that “it is simply not acceptable for a Council of Europe Member State to misuse the fight against terror to jail its opposition. When we say clearly today that terror must be fought, it is important that we also say clearly to the Turkish delegation that the jailed opposition parliamentarians must be released.”
The most important criticism of Turkey came from French senator Josette Durrieu, who turned the tables on Turkey, accusing the government and Erdoğan of what she said was “funding and manipulating radical ideology.”
“We now have to deal with Daesh – I very much hope we will soon see the end of Daesh in Syria – and many states have found themselves caught up in the fight against terrorism. We have had some successes, through intelligence sharing, in thwarting a number of attacks, but we must also acknowledge our failures. We must recognize that the root cause of radical jihadism in all its forms is a radical ideology that is manipulated and funded by certain powers. I am thinking of Libya, Iran and Turkey – and we know who we are talking about. This phenomenon is still with us, and it is evolving. It only takes someone to have a truck or a van to be able to kill people, or someone can just go out with a knife and kill people, as we have seen,” she remarked.
Durrieu concluded that “people have been radicalized, and if we are to combat terrorism, we need to understand its causes and the thinking behind it. We need to understand it and see it for what it really is, because unless we truly do so, we will never be able to combat it. We want a stable and free society throughout the world, and that is what will enable us to defeat terrorism. In Turkey, people should certainly be released, which would be a step towards eradicating terrorism.”
There is abundant evidence that the Erdoğan government armed, funded, provided logistics and facilitated the trafficking of jihadists between Turkey and Syria for years. Instead of prosecuting jihadists, the Turkish government is going after journalists who expose radical networks in Turkey.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a Swedish-based advocacy group that tracks rights violations in Turkey, the Erdoğan government had locked up 266 journalists as of July 1, 2017 and is seeking the arrest of an additional 105. This is a world record by any measure and shows the gravity of the situation of the rule of law, rights and freedoms.
Turkey under Erdoğan’s power-grabbing extremist Islamist regime has become a rogue state that aids and abets radical jihadist groups. He thinks he can bully Turkey’s allies and partners by using proxy radical groups as trump cards while jailing an ever-growing number of opposition members and critics in order to cling to power. He is fanning the disgust and resentment of his regime further, as the PACE debate showed.
It is time for Turkey’s allies to back up their growing criticism of the Turkish government with concrete policy actions such as sanctions and travel restrictions to send a clear and unambiguous message to Erdoğan that enough is enough, that he will not be appeased and that his political repression will no longer be tolerated.