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YouTuber deletes tweets inviting star footballer sought on Gülen links to his program

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A Turkish internet celebrity who has been much talked about lately due to his political debate programs on YouTube has deleted tweets in which he invited famous former Turkish footballer Hakan Şükür, sought by Turkey over his alleged links to a faith-based group, to take part in his program, local media reported over the weekend.

Oğuzhan Uğur, a Turkish musician, director, screenwriter and internet celebrity, started a political debate program on YouTube in August in which a senior figure from one of Turkey’s political parties answers questions from a large group of young people and journalists. Every episode of the program, which comes as the country readies for the 2023 elections, has received millions of views after they were released on the video platform.

Uğur, who frequently tweets invitations to political figures and journalists to appear on his program, “Babala TV,” recently invited footballer Şükür, also a former deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has been living in self-exile in the US because of his affiliation with the Gülen movement.

“To the gentleman whom I once called the ‘king’ and whose name I kissed on the jersey of the national [football] team: Would you join [my program]?” Uğur said in a tweet addressed to Şükür, who played for the Turkish national team between 1992 and 2007 and is referred to as the “king” for being the all-time top goal scorer.

Uğur deleted his tweet following reactions by pro-government circles on social media to his invitation to Şükür, who is targeted by the Turkish government due to his links to the Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

“I re-evaluated my invitation to Hakan Şükür after reading the sincere criticisms one by one. … I shouldn’t risk the possibility of him deceiving even a single person or of anyone becoming sympathetic to FETÖ by giving him the right to speak,” Uğur tweeted on Monday.

https://twitter.com/OguzhanUgur/status/1581898295471124481?cxt=HHwWgsDRxcqHhPQrAAAA

FETÖ is a derogatory term used by the Turkish government to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.

Uğur’s move attracted criticism on social media for contradicting his earlier descriptions of his program as a platform where people from all political, national, social and religious backgrounds could freely express themselves without worrying about being targeted.

Uğur’s failure to give Şükür the right to speak on his YouTube program was seen by many as a result of the AKP government’s firm grip on social media platforms and news websites in addition to newspapers, radio stations and TV channels in Turkey, the overwhelming majority of which are owned by pro-government media groups.

Şükür replied to Uğur in a video he released on his YouTube channel on Sunday, saying that he could answer all the questions the YouTuber had for him. He added that Uğur should first take his camera, go see his father Sermet Şükür, who has cancer, and ask him how it is that he spent months behind bars in a case that has no element of a crime.

Sermet Şükür was detained on Aug. 12, 2016 in Sakarya province and released pending trial on Nov. 25, 2016. The court also imposed a travel ban. Then 75-year-old Şükür was subjected to maltreatment and lost 40 kilograms during his time in prison, according to his lawyers.

The indictment against him, drafted by the Sakarya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, seeks a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on charges of terrorist organization membership. The lawyers previously said the only reason Sermet Şükür was standing trial was his son and his affiliation with the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

As part of a large-scale crackdown on the movement’s members, an arrest warrant was issued for Şükür, who moved to the US in 2015, and the government confiscated all his homes, businesses and bank accounts in Turkey.

The former striker netted 51 goals in his 112 appearances playing for Turkey, making him the nation’s all-time top goal scorer.

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