[OPINION] Erdoğan’s scheming to frame the innocent exposed

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C) greets people as he attends a commemoration ceremony marking the 946th anniversary of the Battle of Malazgirt in eastern Mus province of Turkey on August 26, 2017. Ozkan Bilgin / Anadolu Agency

by Abdullah Bozkurt

As the rule of law has ceased to exist in Turkey, a NATO ally and EU candidate country, it is no longer surprising to see farcical indictments and sham trials based solely on false, defamatory and malicious assertions that are in fact sourced from the narratives used by country’s authoritarian Islamist rulers.

Abdullah Bozkurt

The nation’s top-notch judges and prosecutors comprising some 30 percent of all members of the judiciary were purged from the government, which instead brought in an unqualified partisan bunch to fill the vacancies. That is why we see a theatrical farce in prosecutions, indictments and trial hearings in the criminal justice system, which is blatantly abused by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to hunt down critics and opponents on false charges.

There are two ways the Erdoğan government orchestrates politically motivated criminal investigations. One is the launching of probes directly by law enforcement agencies under loyalist prosecutors who are amenable to the executive branch’s wishes and directives. The other is to have proxies file criminal complaints with prosecutors’ offices against Erdoğan critics so that a case can be built or an investigation launched without putting the government in the spotlight. Afraid of inviting the wrath of his interlocutors directly, Erdoğan uses the second option to minimize the fallout and contain the possible risk from negative repercussions that may arise and harm his political leadership. In either case, the indictments read as if exact replicas of what Erdoğan and his cronies has been preaching in public speeches.

It’s time to expose the operatives who get their signals from the Erdoğan government in going about filing complaints and then conducting public relations campaigns to provide some traction for the government to hold on to. Let’s start with a lawyer named Mehmet Sarı, 42-year old Islamist and graduate of the İHL religious school from the central province of Çorum who filed a criminal complaint in April 2017 against more than a dozen US nationals, accusing them of attempting to destroy the constitutional order, rendering the functioning of Parliament ineffective and toppling the Erdoğan government. Among the suspects named were Senator Charles Schumer, former US federal district attorney Preet Bharara, former CIA Director John Brennan, former CIA Deputy Director and Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, US academic Henri J. Barkey, US author and political analyst Graham E. Fuller and several Turkish-Americans who are affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Sarı is no ordinary lawyer. He is well connected to the Erdoğan government and in fact serves as the senior member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) branch in İstanbul’s Bahçelievler district. He leads a pro-Erdoğan group called the Jurists Association (Hukukçular Derneği in Turkish) that has been very active, from advocating for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to pressing for criminal convictions of top Israeli commanders in the Mavi Marmara trial in Istanbul. He has been groomed to defend Erdoğan’s policies on TV networks that were instructed to have him appear as an expert in legal affairs. This man has access to the leadership in Turkey, is often invited to state protocol events and poses shaking hands with Erdoğan, the justice minister and other senior government officials. No way could he have filed the criminal complaint against leading US figures without getting approval from the government.  Sarı is now floating the idea of securing international arrest warrants for the Americans named in his complaint.

Here is another one. In August 2016 a lawyer named Mert Eryılmaz, a nationalist figure who supports Erdoğan, filed a criminal complaint against Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper and US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, accusing them of plotting a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. The lawyer claimed that Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase in Adana, which is used by the Turkish Air Force as well as US forces, was the place where the July 15 “imperialist invasion” was orchestrated. He asked for the base to be temporarily shut down.

In both cases, Turkish prosecutors processed the complaints instead of dismissing them and let them linger with a view to fostering the idea of a conspiracy by the US in the eyes of the Turkish public. As expected, both cases were widely covered by Turkish media, giving Erdoğan what he wanted in the first place: fanning anti-US euphoria, giving some credence to conspiracy claims under legal cover and deflecting the Turkish people’s attention from real troubles such as economic woes. Such noise in public discussions also helped Erdoğan cover his tracks on how he had actually plotted a false flag in the name of a coup attempt so that they could persecute their opponents, consolidate their gains and transform the Turkish military, NATO’s second largest army, into a bastion for Islamists and neo-nationalists.

Erdoğan’s army of prosecutors not only sat on these baseless complaints but at times actually went ahead by incorporating the complaints into official indictments. Again, all this was happening by design. For example a criminal complaint filed in March 2014 by a man named Hüseyin Kamil Akarsu, an Erdoğan supporter in the western province of Muğla, alleged that the Vatican harbors secret plans against Turkey and aims to convert the whole of Asia to Christianity. The leaked email messages of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is now the energy minister, reveal how Erdoğan’s family was involved with this plaintiff and ran a pope-bashing campaign to feed the conspiracy frenzy. They plotted to bring a smear campaign against the Vatican into the Turkish criminal justice system by means of false complaints such as that of Akarsu.

This absurd complaint, taken seriously by the Erdoğan-controlled judiciary and later included in an official indictment by a Turkish prosecutor, also alleged that leading interfaith advocate and prominent Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen — a critic of Erdoğan for massive corruption schemes and the president’s blatant abuse of Islam for political gain and personal enrichment – is a secret cardinal at the Vatican. Akarsu cited Gülen’s meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1998, part of the Muslim cleric’s outreach and dialogue efforts among faiths, as evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The emails show the complaint was sent to Egemen Bağış, the disgraced former EU affairs minister who had to resign after a graft probe revealed he took $1.5 million in cash from an Iranian man named Reza Zarrab in exchange for government favors. Bağış shared the complaint against the Vatican with Berat and his brother Serhat Albayrak, who manages government mouthpiece the Sabah daily. All these preposterous claims were laid out in the complaint and later extensively covered by pro-government dailies including Sabah.

The fourth example of how Erdoğan and his thugs orchestrated criminal complaints to launch prosecutions against critics to intimidate and harass them was uncovered during the Erdoğan government’s rush to defend al-Qaeda-linked Turkish group Tahşiyeciler led by Mullah Muhammed (his real name is Mehmet Doğan), a radical cleric who calls for armed jihad and the killing of Americans. He openly endorsed Osama bin Laden and called for supporting bin Laden’s army. Bülent Arınç, then deputy prime minister and government spokesperson, publicly admitted in 2014 that the government invited Mullah Muhammed and his associates to file a criminal complaint against the police chiefs, judges and prosecutors who were involved in the investigation into the group as well as journalists who wrote critically about Tahşiyeciler. Gülen was also named as a defendant in the complaint.

The Erdoğan government later turned the complaint into a tool to indict investigators and arrest judges and prosecutors who investigated al-Qaeda cells, seized the highest-circulating newspaper Zaman on this false complaint and issued arrest warrants for journalists as well as for Gülen. As if that were not enough, Erdoğan even hired a shadowy lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, to file a civil suit against Gülen in a US court based on these complaints. The frivolous case was later tossed out by the US judge.

There are more examples showing how Erdoğan and his associates frame innocent people with the malicious attempt to prosecute. The jailing of human rights defenders in July 2017 that included İdil Eser, director of Amnesty International Turkey, and two foreign nationals, Ali Gharavi of Sweden, who specializes in IT strategy, and Peter Steudtner of Germany, who is a non-violence and wellbeing trainer, originated with a complaint by a translator. The whole game was a set up to persecute human rights defenders. The same is also true for American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 on trumped-up terror charges, again based on complaints. The charging paper was upgraded last week to include espionage and attempting to destroy the constitutional order and overthrow the Turkish Parliament.

This is how Erdoğan plots his schemes under the guise of legal complaints purportedly originating from citizens, hoping that nobody will notice his government’s malicious attempt to pursue his critics, fan xenophobic sentiment and find scapegoats to constantly shift the blame to others instead of owning up to the mess he has created in the governance of Turkey. He is also using jailed foreigners as hostages to bargain with other countries in his effort to convince them to join his witch-hunt against critics and opponents. Well, that does not seem to be working since the US, Germany and others refuse to negotiate with hostage-taker Erdoğan. The Turkish president’s storyline is no longer found to be credible, and he has been exposed for the world to know what kind of a scumbag he is: a corrupt hypocrite who blackmails and threatens allies and partners and thinks he can get away with what he does.

There must come a day of reckoning for this 21st century European dictator.

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