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US ‘seriously concerned’ about Turkish officials targeting opponents

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In response to a question regarding threats made by Aydın Ünal, a former speechwriter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy who threatened Turkish journalists in exile with extrajudicial killings in a column published on Monday, a US State Department official expressed “serious concern” about actions of the Turkish government against its opposition, according to a tweet posted by American journalist Adam Klasfeld.

“We are seriously concerned about the pattern of Turkish officials taking actions that appear to target those whose views differ from the government,” said the statement from the State Department official.

“We firmly believe that freedom of expression, including for speech and the media – even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable – strengthens democracy and needs to be respected and protected. We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Strongly criticizing journalists in exile for covering the case of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in Miami in March 2016 on charges of evading US sanctions on Iran, Ünal said in a column published in the pro-Erdoğan Yeni Şafak daily on Monday: “Better to get ready for intra-organization extrajudicial killings instead of carrying out operations over judicial theater [the Zarrab case].”

The AKP deputy listed the names of journalists to be targeted: Ekrem Dumanlı, Adem Yavuz Arslan, Celil Sağır, Bülent Keneş, Abdülhamit Bilici, Erhan Başyurt, Emre Uslu, Akın İpek and Can Dündar.

“You carry out an operation against Turkey with judges and prosecutors, you give logistical support to this judicial theater with information and documents that you have stolen through espionage, and your men here [in Turkey] and in the world will live in peace?” Ünal added.

In another article published on Nov. 27 in Yeni Şafak, Ünal threatened sympathizers of the Gülen movement in Turkey, saying tougher days lie ahead as a result of the case against Reza Zarrab.

Accusing Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen of pushing the Zarrab case in the US, Ünal in his column published in Yeni Şafak said: “In fact there are more than 250,000 FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by the ruling AKP to refer to the Gülen movement] members who are ‘not intelligent,’ do not flee, could not flee. There are in all about 1 million in Turkey. The Zarrab case will naturally make the conditions of FETÖ members more difficult.”

“If the Zarrab case is used as a political attack against Turkey, the peace of FETÖ members in Turkey and all over the world will be more difficult than it is today,” added Ünal.

President Erdoğan on Sunday criticized the US over the case of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab, who revealed his tactics and accomplices in the Turkish government in violating US sanctions on Iran in a New York federal court, saying the US will not be able to make Turkey bow down.

Erdoğan on Saturday had lambasted the US, saying it should not to try to convict Turkey with virtual courts.

Zarrab testified in New York federal court on Thursday that Turkey’s then-prime minister and current president, Erdoğan, personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in a scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and three Halkbank executives, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 and implicated the inner circle of the ruling AKP government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. Zarrab was alleged to have paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped in Turkey.

Back in October, journalist Cem Küçük, a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, had said the Turkish intelligence agency would abduct followers of the Gülen movement in the US and Europe.

“People who are well known by the public will be grabbed by the nape of their neck and taken to Turkey. When they wake up whey will find themselves in the hands of the Turkish police and the court. Those days are not too far away,” wrote Küçük in his column published in the pro-government Turkiye daily.

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