By Abdullah Bozkurt
The autocratic regime in Turkey of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not only broken an all-time world record in the number of journalists it has jailed, which now exceeds 150, but in the speed with which it moved to scapegoat journalists for terrible events that have occurred under its watch, without assuming any responsibility whatsoever for them as well.
When bomb attacks in Istanbul that killed 46 people and injured 166 took place on Dec. 10, the troll army on Twitter that is funded and supported by Erdoğan’s family spread the lie that BBC reporters knew about the attack in advance and had rented an apartment with a perfect view of the carnage. Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, a major Erdoğan ally and an avid user of Twitter, lent support to the conspiracy and even alleged that the BBC and the UK had had a hand in the terror attack. BBC had to make a statement refuting these allegations raised on social media as baseless and said these lies risked the lives of BBC reporters.
The vicious media lynching campaign did not spare US journalist Lindsey Snell, who managed to escape from al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra only to get arrested by Turkish authorities at the border when she thought she was finally safe. Erdoğan’s media machinations portrayed her as a CIA agent, while the Turkish government and its propaganda arm was claiming that the US was behind a failed coup attempt in July 15. She spent 67 days in a Turkish prison in İskenderun before Turkey finally decided to let her go, after the US government intervened.
Perhaps we saw the most bizarre twist in a conspiracy frenzy right after the failed coup attempt of July 15. Fabricated headline stories running simultaneously in the pro- Erdoğan media accused US academic Henri Barkey, the director of the Wilson Center’s Middle East program, his colleagues and Scott Peterson, who is on death row in San Quentin State Prison in California for the murder of his wife, of plotting to stage a coup against Turkey. Barkey and his academic friends from all over the world had held a workshop in Istanbul on the day of the failed coup.
Scott Peterson, the Christian Science Monitor journalist whose name was on the list of invited guests for the workshop, was mixed up with the convicted felon who has the same name. Erdoğan’s media claimed the CIA sent the murderer Peterson to carry out an assassination in Turkey. When the coup failed, he was evacuated to Greece in a hurry to cover up the botched putsch. The event was publicly advertised months in advance, and there was no secret anything about the academic event, which was held in partnership with a prestigious Turkish institution, the Global Political Trends Center. The story was pushed by governing party lawmakers and even led a prosecutor to launch an investigation into the allegations.
There is no shortage of examples of how journalists were targeted by the Turkish government in a systematic and sustained campaign in order to discredit their work and intimidate or force them, cowed, into silence. I have also been the victim of such a campaign in the aftermath of the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov on Monday in the Turkish capital when pro-government hacks disseminated a false claim that the 22-year old assassin, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, stayed at my apartment in Ankara. This absurd claim first emerged from Erdoğan’s trolls on Twitter, was picked up by government propagandists and then was publicized on the websites and print editions of the pro-government media. They even circulated a document showing the address of the assassin. Nobody bothered to check with me, of course, to verify if the address belonged to me. Police raided two houses in Ankara that were used and occupied by the hitman, and none of them had anything to do with my flat. In the meantime, I had to post my address on Twitter as listed in the official registry just to refute these far-fetched allegations.
I understand the motivation on the part of the Erdoğan regime and his intelligence services that try their best to undermine my credibility and lifetime work of journalism as I have been exposing their shady business dealings with all sorts of radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as al-Qaeda and its affiliates and splinter groups. In fact just three days ago, before the tragic murder of the Russian envoy, I wrote a very long analysis for online news portal Turkishminute.com detailing how foreign embassies are at risk in Turkey.
I have tracked the pattern of how Erdoğan and intelligence agency MİT orchestrated protest rallies in front of embassy and consulate buildings, mobilized ruling party youth and women’s branches to send a message to Turkey’s allies and partners and at times even allowed radical groups to demonstrate. I even mentioned how a known Nusra affiliate figure led marches past the Russian, American and French embassies. This man, named Umut Ömer Belül, was arrested and charged with raising funds and recruiting jihadists for al-Qaeda, but later he was let go by the Erdoğan regime. Just a week before the murder of the Russian envoy, the government allowed Hizb ut-Tahrir, an outlawed armed religious group in Turkey, to demonstrate before the Russian Consulate General in İstanbul.
After examining dozens of ISIL cases in Turkey and reading the indictments and thousands of pages of wiretap records, I’m convinced that there is an undeclared revolving door policy in effect, allowing radical figures walk freely through the criminal justice system. No prosecutor or judge is able to effectively deal with radical Islamist figures because of their fear of being dismissed and arrested on anti-government charges. Although this recent plot against me appears to have died down quickly, in 24 hours, when the facts did not match the conspiracy, that does not mean I’m in the clear. As Erdoğan has framed other critics on trumped-up charges, false witnesses and fabricated evidence, opposition journalists like me can always face sinister new plans just around the corner.
I suppose I have deal with that when it comes my way. I have received numerous death threats in the last several days on top of the usual batch I get every day, suggesting that an organized campaign is under way to intimidate me from speaking up. I realize there is no effective recourse left to remedy this grievance of mine in Turkey’s judiciary, which has completely surrendered to one-man rule. Nevertheless, I refuse to yield to this terror of a fear campaign apparently fueled by Erdoğan and his Islamist thugs. I’m determined to keep exposing their dirty laundry and wrongdoings in governance and create a historical record with a view to and a hope that one day these crooks will be held accountable for what they have done to Turkey, its allies and partners.