March 21, 2018

President Erdogan takes tips from Putin in targeting dissidents abroad

What happened?

On 14 March 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats after Russia refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used in the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, in Salisbury, England on 4 March 2018. Britain, the US, Germany and France have released a joint statement deploring the Salisbury poisoning as an “assault on UK sovereignty” and emphasised that such intervention is a “breach of international law”.

Russia is notorious for targeting those who have fallen afoul of the Kremlin. There is a long list of cases where Russia’s dissidents and renegade spies have fallen ill or died under suspicious circumstances. Similarly, Turkey’s Erdogan regime has been systematically targeting dissidents abroad through criminal activities.

On 4 March 2018, Reuters reported that Switzerland is investigating a plot in which Turkish diplomats planned to drug and kidnap a Swiss-Turkish businessman, believed to be affiliated with the Hizmet Movement. The Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland confirmed a criminal case is being conducted into political intelligence gathering and prohibited acts towards a foreign state.

This latest plot joins the long list of Hizmet participants who have been illegally targeted by the Erdogan regime in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.

What does this mean?
  • The Turkish government has been systematically using a variety of methods to target Hizmet participants outside Turkey.
  • After the July 15 coup attempt, the Turkish government set up a telephone hotline so that people can report Hizmet participants.Text messages and social media posts were used to incite people to inform on Hizmet participants and others deemed critical of the Erdogan regime.
  • On 4 August 2016, Turkey’s state-run news agency published an infographic targeting Hizmet inspired people and foundations in the UK, linking them to terrorism.
  • On 13 March 2018, Germany launched an investigation into the controversial group called Osmanen Germania BC on the grounds that the group is reportedly involved in violent crime and has ties to the Turkish government and Turkish National Intelligence (MIT).
  • Stockholm Center for Freedom documented an increasing number of cases of abductions and enforced disappearances by the Turkish government of the Erdogan regime’s critics. Most of the victims are believed to be Hizmet participants.
  • The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Germany’s largest Islamic organisation, has admitted that some of its imams have acted as informants for the Turkish government.
  • A pro-government Turkish journalist, Cem Küçük, said that the Turkish intelligence (MIT) has the authorisation to conduct operations abroad and many overseas Turks are willing to carry out assassinations on behalf of MIT.
  • In March 2017, Switzerland had launched a criminal investigation into foreign spying on the country’s Turkish community by Ankara.
  • In May 2017, a Turkish-origin school principal and two businessmen of Turkish origin were abducted in Malaysia, to be forcefully taken to Turkey.
  • In November 2017, in the US, an investigation was instigated into the activities of ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn for an alleged plan to kidnap Fethullah Gülen in return for $15m.
  • In a report on the diaspora politics of Turkey in the UK, the Turkey Institute, a London-based research centre, concluded that “there are illegal activities conducted by the Turkish state which target dissidents of the regime abroad often through means of labelling people by creating lists, sometimes kidnapping individuals, and even assassinating Turkish-/Kurdish-origin political dissidents living abroad, resulting in a generation of fear among the diaspora.”
  • In its latest report published on 20 March 2018, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights suggested that Turkey should ‘promptly end the state of emergency and restore the normal functioning of institutions and the rule of law’, and ‘rescind passport cancellation orders and deprivation of citizenship procedures, and enable full freedom of movement’.

Dr Ismail Mesut Sezgin, Director of the Centre for Hizmet Studies, said:
Turkey has been aggressively transferring its domestic politics abroad and mobilising the Turkish diaspora in direct and indirect forms via diplomatic agents, religious officials, and politically driven NGOs. Unfortunately, such practices have led to an increasing number of cases of abductions, attacks, incidents of hate speech, abuses, threats and profiling of dissident groups, including the Hizmet Movement. The gradual erosion of fundamental human rights, President Erdogan’s authoritarian practices, and his aggressive foreign policy choices are often likened to the Putin regime. However, it appears that President Erdogan also takes tips from the Putin regime in targeting its critics abroad to send a message to those who dare to dissent.

Published on Centre for Hizmet Studies, 21 March 2018, Wednesday