October 26, 2015

British law firm hired by AK Party gov’t launches defamation campaign against Gülen movement

A British law firm hired by the Turkish government has launched a defamation campaign against the Gülen movement in Washington by parroting a government narrative as part of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) unceasing witch hunt in Turkey and abroad.

Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of the Amsterdam & Partners LLP, a London-based law firm, said in Washington on Monday that the Turkish government hired the firm to "conduct a global investigation" into the activities the Gülen movement.

“We have been retained by the [Turkish] Republic to expose allegedly unlawful conduct by the Gülen network worldwide,” Amsterdam said during a press conference, which was not publicly announced. Only hand-picked pro-government Turkish media were invited to the briefing, which Today's Zaman had to find through different channels, and the live broadcast was cut when the floor was opened to questions.

It was not clear how much the Turkish government paid for the firm, but Turkish whistleblower claimed last month that the firm officially gets $50,000 monthly and "millions" under the table. The Monday's press briefing also confirmed whistleblower Fuat Avni's claim, who has a long history of credible reporting from inside the government in Ankara.

The briefing was primarily designed to clarify works of the law firm, which has been under fire by Turkish critics for extending Ankara's witch hunt abroad. The firm was slammed for being the Turkish government's mouthpiece and the hired lawyers attempted to justify their work for such a government that has become synonymous with anti-democratic crackdown and the lack of accountability. Borrowing from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's playbook, Amsterdam said the movement is trying to "overthrow an elected government in Turkey," reiterating the government narrative since twin corruption investigations targeted Erdoğan and his inner circle.

Amsterdam even acknowledged that the press conference was "provoked" by such criticisms, complained about how his works with the Turkish government was revealed and said it "bears the narrative of the Turkish government" that there are "spies inside."

The firm was retained by the Turkish government after it failed to convince other governments to shut down schools and charity organizations linked to the Gülen movement. Amsterdam, flocked by his partners in a small room at the National Press Club, displayed three banners that showed chart of schools and other educational facilities of the Gülen movement in other countries.

Amsterdam's briefing was immediately picked by pro-government Turkish media and reported as a formal US policy against the Gülen movement. Sabah daily, owned by Turkish president's son-in-law, said "a coup from the US" in the headline.

In İstanbul, Mehmet Kasap, chairman of the Law and Life Foundation, said Amsterdam's accusations are "very serious" that needs to be proved.

Pointing out that Amsterdam violated the presumption of innocence; Kasap said there is no such crime as "parallel structure."

"Amsterdam is not putting forward any proof, he’s talking hearsay. I believe the lawyers of the Gülen schools and any other parties involved in the case will press charges, should they feel the need” he said.

The lawyer said the activities of the Gülen movement "should concern everyone who cares about the future of democracy in Turkey." The lawyer's remarks stood in dark contrast to democratic credentials of his client, the Turkish government. The government has recently been targeted by rights groups for gravely abusing rights, restricting freedoms and cracking down on the critical media. As Amsterdam spoke about how the movement is detrimental to the Turkish democracy, Turkish authorities moved to seize the country's leading media group, İpek, just days before the key polls.

As the briefing in Washington ended, US Congressman Todd Rokita said 65 US lawmakers submitted a joint letter to President Barack Obama, highlighting concerns about the "Turkish government's dedication to the democratic process."

Amsterdam also took a jab at this newspaper for its "misleading and defamatory reporting." The newspaper carried out the whistleblower's remarks, who said the law firm will use their clout in Africa to push African governments to close down the schools, which are known to provide education to often the most unprivileged children in less developed countries. The whistleblower also reported on Erdoğan's “glee” when his advisers told him, “There is nothing, even illegal jobs, that we can't make this law firm do."

Amsterdam described the article as "shameful" in a country like Turkey where he claimed the "press freedom is sacred," contradicting Turkey's poor record in upholding media freedom.

Nurullah Albayrak, the legal representative of Fethullah Gülen, who resides in rural Pennsylvanian town, interpreted the press briefing as the confirmation of the whistleblower's claims.

Albayrak said the money paid to the British law firm is a “waste of public finances” as Amsterdam did not put forward any evidence to back up his claims. “Someone must have misled this law firm, or they have been misled themselves” he added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 October 2015, Monday