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Court rejects indictment on ‘sex tape’ scandal that contributed to presidential candidate’s withdrawal

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The Ankara 19th High Criminal Court has rejected an indictment drafted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in connection with the dissemination of a fake “sex tape” that led to the withdrawal of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce, the leader of the Homeland Party (MP), from the May 14 election, Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition (DW Türkçe) reported on Wednesday.

During the election campaign, images purported to be a sex tape of İnce, who was a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections, were circulated on Twitter. These images prompted İnce to withdraw from the race on May 11, just three days before the election. He cited an overwhelming wave of “insults” and “false accusations” as the reasons for his withdrawal and accused the Turkish state and media of failing to protect his reputation.

Following İnce’s claims of a defamation campaign against him, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation, viewing İnce as a “public official.” The investigation focused on alleged crimes committed against İnce, including “blackmail,” “threat,” “document forgery,” “unlawful acquisition and dissemination of personal data” and “invasion of privacy.”

The indictment also targeted individuals allegedly involved in disseminating the fake footage, including Oktay Yaşar, the owner of Twitter account “Ankara Kuşu,” and exiled journalist Cevheri Güven. The indictment accused Yaşar of destroying, concealing or altering criminal evidence; aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member of it; committing insult with a written or visual message; and obstructing the activities of a political challenger. Güven, an investigative journalist who resides in exile in Germany, was charged with leading an illegal organization in addition to other crimes.

However, the court harshly criticized the indictment, stating that it lacked sufficient evidence and allegations to link Yaşar and Güven together in the same trial. It was pointed out that the prosecutor’s office failed to provide substantial evidence of Yaşar’s connection to the alleged terrorist organization and that the indictment lacked clear descriptions of the events constituting the charged crimes.

The scandal surrounding the alleged fake “sex tape” took place amid the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the runoff election on May 28 against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Investigative journalist Güven has claimed that President Erdoğan’s administration orchestrated the scandal as part of a planned scheme to divide the opposition.

As the investigation continues, Güven, who is being sought by the government, remains in exile in Germany.

The court has asked the prosecutor’s office to provide more information on the individuals’ connection to a terrorist organization as well as their actions that could be considered aiding one. The case may be separated if sufficient evidence is presented, leading to separate trials for the accused individuals.

Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government initiated a massive purge of state institutions, jailing tens of thousands under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The government has faced criticism for using vague counterterrorism laws to imprison critics and opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly alleged affiliates of the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, and Kurdish activists.

The sex tape scandal

MP leader İnce, who ignored opposition pleas not to run for fear of splitting the anti-Erdoğan vote, found himself embroiled in controversy as the allegedly fake sex tape circulated ahead of the May 14 elections. He withdrew from the race on May 11. His exit coincided with a steep drop in his popularity as polls indicated his garnering less than 2 percent of the vote. İnce dismissed the video as fake and attributed the plot to the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization, blaming it for a failed 2016 coup — a charge the movement denies. İnce’s association of the Gülen movement with the video originates from its promotion by a Twitter account operating under the name of Ali Yeşildağ, a former Erdoğan ally who is now sought by Turkish authorities. Days before the elections, Yeşildağ made shocking allegations about Erdoğan’s purported corruption via YouTube videos aired by investigative journalist Güven.

Yeşildağ said at the time he did not operate accounts on other social media platforms. Tuğrulcan Elmas, a social media manipulation researcher, posited that the Twitter account disseminating these videos has previously used different names and targeted opposition members, leading him to suspect that it may be an operation conducted by the ruling AKP.

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