Turkey’s Spy Agency provided with carte blanche for human rights abuses

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http://www.article19.org/join-the-debate.php/145/view/

On 17 April, the Turkish Parliament passed a law increasing the power and immunity of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). The new law amends the previous law dating back to 1983, clearly aiming towards making the MİT more powerful and less accountable. In short, the law negatively impacts on freedom of press, decreases government accountability, increases the state’s capacity to monitor its citizens and makes MİT operatives immune from prosecution, regardless of any human rights abuse they might commit.

According to the new law, the Council of Ministers can authorise operational duties to the MİT on any issues related to external security, counter-terrorism and national security.  Turkey has a track record of using broad and vague language to silence critical news and opinion and allow the state “interpretation” of the law. It is therefore not unsurprising, but troubling that the definition of “national security” is vague and unclear, permitting the MIT to carry out operations against anyone that the government deems a “national security threat”. Given how polarised Turkish society is, any group that opposes the government could easily become the target of MIT operations.

Under the new law, the activities of the MIT are kept completely secret from the public. Journalists and editors who dare to publish leaked intelligence documents, or provide information on national intelligence activities or personnel face maximum sentences of a staggering ten years in jail. Issues relating to “national security”, and in fact any issues the government claims to be related to national security, are effectively barred from public debate and closed off from public scrutiny. The public is effectively prevented from holding the government and its institutions accountable.

The MİT is also permitted to demand and collect private data from all public institutions, all legal entities, as well as institutions without a legal personality. This particular aspect of the law undermines the individual right to privacy, and also makes the MİT unaccountable as it is able to access data without requiring a court order.

Another implication of the law is that if a person is seen to prevent the MİT from carrying out its duties and exercising its authority, they could be liable to a prison sentence of two to five years. As the MİT is allowed access to confidential data, refusing to provide the MİT with information could be interpreted as interfering in their work, leading to imprisonment.

The law gives MİT operatives immunity, even if they have violated fundamental human rights – e.g. for example the right not to be subjected to torture – in the course of their duties.  As a consequence, MİT personnel are not accountable to public prosecutors, and public courts are not permitted to investigate claims of offence. The MİT is placed above the law.

These developments are particularly worrying given the current political climate. Over the past year, the AKP government has proven hostile in the face of criticism and has progressively implemented laws increasing its power over different branches of state. The result has been the gradual erosion of the rule of law and the principle of a separation of powers. In this respect, the new MİT law is a threat to Turkey’s ability to effectively protect human rights and is likely to deal a serious blow to its human rights record.

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Turkish Municipal Elections fall prey to electoral fraud

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Turkey went to the polls for municipal elections on Sunday, 30th of March. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the clear victors. They not only kept control of the two largest cities (Istanbul and Ankara) but also maintained the lion’s share of the votes. (40%+) Thus, although this post chronicles certain acts of electoral fraud, I do not want to give the impression that the AKP did not deserve to win the elections, or that they stole the elections on the whole. 

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Turkey is becoming increasingly polarised between the AKP and its opponents. Whilst masses congregate in public calling for the PM to resign, Erdoğan signals to the ballot box. Effectively, he has turned the local elections into a referendum on himself and his government where the gained electoral majority is translated into a mandate to carry on with the current state of affairs. Winning at the polls has become somewhat of a habit for Erdoğan: 3 nationals and 3 locals, not to mention the referendum.  

The  local elections come on the back of too many things that can’t be readily summarized in a few lines. For a start, Prime Minister Erdoğan and his cabinet(s) have been implicated in leaked conversations that detail acts of corruption, bribery and censorship. Whether you buy into these tapes or not, in order to keep a lid on this mountain of dirt, the party has effectively dismantled all mechanisms of checks and balances. They have tampered with legal structures, ignored court verdicts, taken away basic rights like freedom of expression and freedom of information through the banning of internet sites like Twitter, YouTube and hundreds of political websites, and also legitimised the police’s brutality against the public while not granting them their right of assembly.

Berkin Elvan, a 15 year old kid was shot in the face with a tear gas canister by a policeman whilst on his way to a corner shop last May. He died after clinging onto life for 269 days. The day after his funeral, Erdoğan referred to Berkin as a terrorist, blamed him for his own death and got thousands to jeer at his mother in an election rally…

Murathan Mungan, a celebrated Turkish writer has a saying that goes, “you can be anything in Turkey, but you can’t be a disgrace”, meaning that no matter how low you stoop, you can still clear your name in Turkey. Erdoğan sees these elections as a way to clear his name and counter the crisis of legitimacy the party faces. 

Whilst elections are indeed a core aspect of democracies I want to highlight an abundant number of incidents that suggest the recent municipal elections might not have been “free and fair” after all.  Customarily, Turkey is not a country where election fraud takes place, but this time there is much to suggest that it is a distinct possibility. 

Indicators of Electoral Fraud

More than 50 million people went to the polls amid high participation in the elections. Beyond those that merely cast their votes, a record number of citizens volunteered to observe the count, collecting copies of ballot box recordings. Throughout the day, vigilant volunteers documented acts of electoral fraud and pointed to noteworthy differences between the figures provided in records of the ballot boxes and the figures recorded by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) box staff.

The CHP set up a 50 person call centre so that issues at the ballot boxes could be reported and official reports could be written up as evidence. A nonpartisan campaign called Oy ve Ötesi was set up to monitor the elections at the polling stations. The aim was to have 33,000 volunteers spread across every polling station in order to guarantee free and fair elections. 

Reports were shared through sites like Twitter – still banned at the time(!) – and Facebook. Crowdmaps were created where anyone could submit reports of election fraud or voter intimidation by SMS, email, twitter, iPhone/Android apps, and through the website https://2014secim.crowdmap.com/. All reports for the crowdmap are available here: link. There was also a Tumblr account where people uploaded pictures, video, and other proof of election fraud that took place. http://hilelisecim2014.tumblr.com/

ImageThe credentials of the elections were already tarnished weeks before the day of the election. On March 12, it was discovered that 312 envelopes and tens of stamps to be used on the day of the election were stolen.

On the day of the elections, monitors and journalists were often refused access to polling stations across the country. Reports that riot police and AKP supporters surrounded several vote counting centers, refusing to let any election monitors in started spreading.

Individual mistakes at the ballot box were circumvented by the burning of spoiled ballots and their replacement by new ones. Only problem is, the majority of documented pictures showing burnt or binned ballot papers overwhelmingly belong to the opposition CHP. Moreover, it was reported that the number of burnt ballots discovered in the trash did not match the official number for ruined ballots at many polling stations. Sometimes the number of votes AKP candidates received were more than the number of eligible voters for that polling station!

There are all sorts of incriminating videos circulating on YouTube –  still blocked in Turkey (!) – like that of a poll worker admitting that she made AKP ballots out of empty ballots, creating fake AKP votes and cramming them in ballot boxes. 

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Results from one polling station show more votes for Melih Gökçek (AKP Ankara) than the total number of eligible votes.

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Ballot personnel caught opening and tampering sealed ballot bags

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Burnt ballots in Istanbul

Then there were electricity cuts in over 40 cities across Turkey. Some of the most contested cities had to count votes under candle light. To make matters worse, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yıldız come forward and declared that the electricity cuts were the result of a cat walking into the transformer unit. 

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Map of cities with electricity cuts

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Contested election results

Days after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed victory in a very close race in the capital of Ankara, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest alleged fraud at the polls. The riot police have been using water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowd of protesters surrounding the Supreme Electoral Council in Ankara. The people have been demanded a recount of local election results, in which the ruling AKP party narrowly won.

As Erik Meyersson analyses in some detail -although preliminary- it is definitely within the realm of possibility that the results in Ankara were rigged given that there is a correlation between AK party votes in Ankara and the number of ballots declared invalid for the CHP.

The AKP have appealed the results in the southern metropolis of Adana which were declared for the Nationalist MHP. The northwestern city of Yalova, where the AKP’s candidate won only by a single vote according the first results, changed hands after the recount, in favor of the CHP.

In the city of Ağrı, Sırrı Sakık, one of the key figures of the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP), won the election by a narrow margin of only 10 votes of difference over the AKP’s Hasan Arslan. The provincial electoral board ordered to recount the votes in the 196 ballot boxes of the city’s constituency, despite reports that the votes had been counted 14 times without any change in result.

The latest development at the time of writing was that the Ankara Election Board had rejected the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) appeal for the recount of votes in Ankara. CHP will keep pushing to no avail. After all, Melih Gökçek from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has begun his fifth term as the mayor of Ankara on April 5.

The CHP need to ask why they are not able to gain more votes at a time when the AKP are so vulnerable. We need to see that governmental interference in the rule of law doesn’t impact on AKP voter preference; that government interference in the media does not impack on AKP voter preference; that corruption allegations do not have an impact on AKP voter preference. So what the opposition parties need to do is to ask what conditions the voting behavior of those that vote for Erdoğan.

There seems to be evidence of electoral fraud, but that doesn’t change the fact that the AKP were overwhelmingly victorious.

Are the walls closing in on Erdoğan? (Taped conversation between PM and his son)

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The latest leaked conversation between Prime Minister Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan was recorded on December 17, 2013. This was the very same day we woke up to police raids, and heard of a corruption investigation into a group of highly networked businessmen and politicians, including the sons of three of Erdoğan’s own ministers.

Minister of Economy Zafer Çağlayan was implicated in an international corruption scandal where he was allegedly paid 103 million lira ($49 million) over two years, as “commission” – bribe –  after seeking to profit off of Iran’s sanctions-busting ‘gold for gas’ scheme with Turkey. A classic example of politicians in positions of power mixing foreign policy with their opportunist self-interest.

Then there were allegations of construction briberies… PM Erdoğan and his party have created a $200 billion public works plan. This includes a 3rd suspension bridge to be built in Istanbul, costing around $2.5 billion, and a 3rd airport costing $14 billion. However, executives from companies building the bridge and airport are among the 100 people arrested, questioned, or sought by the prosecutors leading the corruption investigation. Bribes given to politicians for changing zoning regulations or on specific plots of land were also part of the initial investigation.

The phone conversation leaked today – between PM Recep Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan – was recorded on the day the corruption investigation started and took place over a 26-hour period. If this doesn’t clearly show the most powerful man in Turkey, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, I don’t know what does. 

“Whatever you have in the house, get rid of it, OK?” the prime minister can be heard telling Bilal in the opening conversation. Erdogan tells Bilal that his sister Sumeyye is on her way to help him and admonishes Bilal to tell others in the family also to get rid of cash, including Sumeyye’s husband, Bilal’s brother Burak, his uncle Mustafa Erdogan, and Erdogan’s brother-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

“It will be good if you completely ‘zero’ it,” the prime minster is heard saying in the second conversation, which took place later that morning. In the fourth conversation at 11:15 that night, Bilal says he had almost “zeroed” out the money, but that there were some 30 million euros (about $39 million) left. When his father asks why he didn’t transfer all the money to Mehmet Gur, a contractor who was building the Erdogan family villa, Bilal responds: because “it takes a lot of space.”

At different points, Erdogan can be heard warning Bilal not to use a regular telephone. In the final conversation on the morning of Dec. 18, after Bilal admits that the money had not been “zeroed out,” the prime minister again says Bilal should get rid of all the funds.

“OK, Dad, but we are probably being monitored at the moment,” Bilal said. His father replied: “Son, you’re being wiretapped,” to Bilal responds: “But they are monitoring us with cameras as well.”

Two more conversations were published on the Internet Wednesday night, one purporting to capture Erdogan and Bilal discussing how much money they should expect from a Turkish businessman, and the other recording two other businessmen discussing a payoff. More are expected, at least until the country votes in municipal elections March 31.

The following conversation can not be used as incriminating evidence in court. However, the leads that can be traced from the information that is mentioned and the sheer gravity of the occasion makes it impossible for Prime Minister Erdoğan to simply walk away from the allegations without dire consequences.

The transcript of the phone conversation (link to recording) is as follows: 

1. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dec 17, 2013 08:02 a.m.

RTE: Are you home son?

Bilal E: Yes father

RTE: Now! This morning [they] made an operation. Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, Erdogan’s [Bayraktar-ex minister] son, Zafer’s [Caglayan – ex-minister] son, Muammer’s [Guler – ex-minister] son.. All their houses are being searched now.

BE: Can you say that again daddy.

RTE: I’m saying that Muammer’s son, Zafer’s son, Erdogan’s son, Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab etc. They are searching the houses of 18 people under a big corruption operation.

BE: Yes

RTE: OK? Now, what I’m saying is, you take out everything that you have in the house. OK?

BE: What can I have on me dad! There is your money in the safe.

RTE: That’s what I am saying. Now, I am sending in your sister. OK?

BE: Who are you sending?

RTE: Your sister.

BE: Eh, OK

RTE: Then.. she has the same information you have, OK? One more thing, talk with your big brother

BE: Yes

RTE: .. talk with your uncle too, he should also get rid [of the money], also talk to your [maternal] uncle, he should also do the same…

BE: What should we do with these [the money] dad, where shall we put them?

RTE: To specific places, to some specific places

(A woman’s voice in the background saying “Berat”)

BE: Berat also has some.

RTE: That’s what I am saying. Now, get together, go get your uncle, I don’t know if Uncle Ziya has some, OK? Also immediately inform your brother Burak too.

BE: OK daddy. Do you mean Sümeyye [his sister/PM’s daughter] will take it out, or will Sümeyye tell me where to take them?

RTE: Yes, fine. C’mon now, do [it] think about it amongst yourselves, with your uncle, etc 

BE: On what to do?

RTE: Yes, yes, let’s be in contact and do it fast, by 10.00. Because the issue is…

BE: OK father

RTE: OK? Keep in touch

BE: OK daddy

2. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dec 17, 2013 11.17 a.m.

BE: Father, we got together with Brother Hasan etc. Brother Berat, my uncle, we are together, thinking about it. Berat has another idea. He says, let’s give some of it to Faruk [Kalyoncu] for the other “business/thing” so that he can process them like the previous ones. Shall we do it, we can solve a considerable amount this way? 

RTE: That could work

BE: OK. For the other part, because we started a business partnership with Mehmet Gur, we thought of giving some to him saying “keep it, as the projects start coming you can use from that. This way, we will be able to dissolve and move the rest to somewhere else.

RTE: OK, fine, as long as you do…

BE: OK

RTE: Did Sümeyye arrive?

BE: She arrived home, she’ll be coming here now. OK daddy, we will sort this out today, inshallah (with God’s permission). Anything else?

RTE: It would be good if you do… If you could zero the balance [dissolve all of the money]. 

BE: Yes, we will reset it all, inshallah.

3. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dec 17, 2013, 15.39 p.m.

RTE: Did you do the other tasks I gave you?

BE: We will finish them in the evening. We sorted some out; We sorted the Berat part, now we will first handle the part with Mehmet Gur and the rest, we will do that when it gets dark.

RTE:….

BE: Inshallah

RTE: What did Sümeyye do?

BE: She took them out, brought them, we talked, etc.

RTE: Did she sort both sides?

BE: I think so daddy, she said she emptied both.

RTE: Both sides

BE: Yes, she said both of them. But is this what you mean by saying ‘both sides’?

RTE: Whatever. OK, fine

4. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dec 17, 2013, 23.15 p.m.

BE: Hi daddy, I am calling to… we did [it] mostly. Eee, did you call me daddy?

RTE: No I did not, you called me.

BE: I was called from a secret number.

RTE: When you say mostly, do you mean you’ve fully dissolved it?

BE: We are not yet at zero daddy. Let me explain.. We still have about 30 million euros that we have not been able to move, to dissolve. Berat thought of something.. There was an additional 25 million dollars that Ahmet Calik should receive. They say let’s give this [to him] there. When the money comes, we do something with it. And with the remaining money we can buy a flat from Sehrizar, he says. What do you say, father?

RTE: ….

(background soun: Ayyy)

BE: Daddy

RTE: Is Sümeyye with you?

BE: Yes, should I call her?

RTE: No, there was another sound, that’s why I asked

BE: Umm.. I mean, he can transfer 25 million dollars to Calik and buy a flat from Sherizar with the remainder.

RTE: Whatever, sort it out however you see fit.

BE: Should we do it like this?

RTE: OK do it

BE: Do you want all of it dissolved father, or do you want some money for yourself?

RTE: No, it cannot stay, son. You could transfer that to the other, with Mehmet you could transfer it there…

BE: Yes, we gave them. We gave them 20.

RTE: For God’s sake, you should’ve first transferred it, then you could…

BE: This was all we were able to give. It is already difficult. It takes up too much space. We are putting some of it in another place, we gave part of it to Tunç, and then…

RTE: Did you transfer it all to Tunc?

BE: (Sümeyye, can you come) Where, father?

RTE: To Tunc, I said, did you transfer it all to Tunc?

BE: They asked, I guess he said that he could take 10 million euros.

RTE: Whatever. Do not talk like this on the phone. 

BE: OK, then, we will sort it as such.

RTE: Ok do it. I am not able to come tonight, I will stay in Ankara

BE: OK, we are sorting it out. Don’t you worry. 

5. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dec 18, 2013, 10.58 a.m.

RTE. I wondered if everything is fine, so I called.

BE: No, nothing new. We finished the tasks you gave us, with the help of God.

RTE: Is it all zeroed?

BE: Fully? I mean saying zeroed, how should I put it? I had Samandira and Maltepe’s money, 730.000 USD and 300.000 TL. I will handle these too. We owe 1 million TL to Faruk İsik (AKP MP); I will give those to him and tell him to transfer the rest to the academy.

RTE: Do not talk openly

BE: Should’t I talk?

RTE: Do not talk, OK?

BE: OK daddy

RTE: I mean, do not keep anything on you, whatever it is Samandira or whatever… Send it to where it needs to be.

BE: OK daddy, but I think currently we are under surveillance

RTE: What have I been telling to you since the very beginning!

BE: But is it the bodyguard team? Who is following us father?

RTE: Son, you are being tapped

BE: But they are also visually monitoring, they say

RTE: That may be true. Now, we did some things (meaning intervention) in Istanbul Security General Directorate.

Coercion, Surveillance, Censorship: Brace yourselves for the new Internet Law!

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In one leaked phone conversation, PM Erdoğan reproaches a media executive, stating he doesn’t have the time to monitor every publication across media networks. He essentially all but states his desire for media bosses to use ‘common sense’ and auto-censor their publications. If this demand happens to fall on deaf ears, he clearly does not shy away from picking up the phone and lighting a fire under executives to make them toe the line.

Considering the amount of dirt that has been swept under the carpet over the AKP’s 10 year tenure – which is steadily surfacing – the variety of strong-arm tactics employed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are increasing in proportion to the growing opposition.

On February 15, the Parliament approved a bill that will tighten the government’s grip over the judiciary. Since PM Erdoğan’s AKP dominate in parliament with 319 seats out of 550, ‘debates’ are usually vocal and violent, but lack any real dialogue. In this instance, the bill was passed amidst a fight where one opposition MP – from the CHP – ended up in hospital with a broken nose. This bill will stop the judiciary from carrying out investigations against alleged acts of corruption that involve the governing AKP. On February 20, another law was drafted that will expand the powers of the intelligence agency (MIT). Experts say the proposed legislation would transform Turkey into a full fledged secret-police state. Without any doubt, the proposed bill will soon be on President Gül’s table for a rubber stamping.

The topic of this post however is the new internet law that will plug another hole in the AKP’s sinking ship. Whilst the law regulating the HSYK will stop legal inquiries against the AKP and the MIT bill will further enable AKP to gather intelligence on dissidents, the internet crackdown will muzzle the free flow of information, essentially preventing the social media and other sites from reporting on the corruption scandal and any other skeletons the AKP might still have locked up in its closet.

What does the new Law change? 

The amendments to Law 5651 allows Turkey’s telecommunications authority (T.I.B) to block websites and censor any internet content within 4 hours without a prior court decision. The legislation also forces Internet service providers to store data on web users’ activities for two years and makes them available to the authorities upon request, without the notification of users.

In a nutshell, the law gives absolute power to the T.I.B which is in turn under the control of the government. Whilst any bureaucrat can decide to censor online content without applying for a court order, the user would have to apply to the courts to overturn the censorship decision.

It is worrying that the law puts control over the internet further in the hands of the government and away from judicial oversight. Many have opposed the law because they see it as a way for the AKP to censor dissident opinions and contain the publication of information that might cause harm to itself or its associates. The fact that the current changes facilitate a more targeted censorship, such as of individual Twitter profiles, or specific youtube clips seems to verify this opinion.  From here on in, the decision to block access to any given material will target specific IPs and URLs. In other words, it will be possible to block access to a specific part of a website and changing DNS settings will not allow access to blocked internet sites.

With the new internet law, the amount of blocked internet content will increase at an alarming rate. For example, the ‘Alo-Fatih’ phone leaks are a collection of legally acquired recordings that are published online by a user with the alias Haramzadeler. Access to these tapes were blocked once its circulation reached 50,000 hits.

The caption reads, “The content of this footage cannot be viewed within this country due to legal complaints made by the government”

Internet censorship in Turkey: 

Censorship and restriction of the internet is already a fact of life in Turkey. According to Engelliweb.com, around 40,800 websites are blocked in Turkey up to date. The statistics also highlight the alarmingly high rate of increase in blocked internet sites.

Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Blogspot, Soundcloud, Tiny URL, World News Network, Google Sites are only number of household names and examples of sites that have been or still are blocked from access in Turkey.

Alo-Fatih 5

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This phone conversation sheds light on the manipulative relationship that exists between the AKP government and Habertürk. Habertürk is owned by CİNER Media group. It would appear that in return for certain concessions, Mehmet Fatih Saraç was appointed to Habertürk as the executive at the directive of the AKP. 

1. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Hüseyin Çelik (prominent AKP MP) (TAPE ID: 1844528065) Date: 31.12.2012 Time: 16.23 

Hüseyin Çelik: By the way, may your new mission bring you fortune.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: From now on, give me a call in advance. I will be more comfortable if you don’t call me in the morning. Thats all I want to say. Do you understand?

Hüseyin Çelik: What?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Whatever you desire, call me in advance. It will be more comfortable than calling me in the morning. We can sit down one day and talk the issues over. 

Hüseyin Çelik: If god wills it. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: But I mean directly. That is the kind of mission I have been assigned. 

Hüseyin Çelik: Ok ok. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I mean whatever you desire. 

Hüseyin Çelik: Thank you. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Our elder knows… (referring to PM Erdoğan)

Hüseyin Çelik: Kenan is also someone you will get along with.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes, both Kenan and Fatih are tied to my command.

Hüseyin Çelik: Thank you, ok.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: So we are in a strong position, may god will it so. 

Hüseyin Çelik: Ok, may god make make things easier for you. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: But my request from you is that you approach me in a straightforward way so that I can be relaxed in what I do. 

Hüseyin Çelik: I’m going to come to Istanbul soon. My advice is, don’t rush the thing in Ankara. You appointed a girl there, lets talk about it first, ok?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: We need to talk on other things aswell. 

Hüseyin Çelik: Ok, agreed. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I’m going to meet our elder tomorrow. After that I will come to Ankara to seek your council because I want to make sure I get off to a good start. 

2. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Taner Yıldız (Minister of Energy and Natural Sources) (TAPE ID: 1846932693) Date: 01.01.2013 Time: 20.00

 Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Dear Minister, I’m with company, let me leave… (leaves the room) How are you, I hope all is well?

Taner Yıldız: Thank you.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: They summoned me to the estate today. I went. 

Taner Yıldız: How did it go? 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Very well. I was told to get in contact with this person and that person, make sure that things runs this way and that way. It was in relation to my new job you know.

Taner Yıldız: Good he he. (laughs)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: He (PM Erdoğan) also told me that I needed to remain there (at Habertürk) so that whenever he calls, he can reach me there. I told him that this wasn’t the place where I earn my living, that I wasn’t paid a single penny there. We came to an understanding in half a day though. 

Taner Yıldız: Very good. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: In which case, I have a favour to ask of you. You speak to the PM. Before the winter sets in.. for example we turned a blind eye to the Uludere incident this year as you know, as a TV station, we turned a blind eye completely. 

Taner Yıldız: True.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Thank god we didn’t hear about the issue neither on TV, nor in print. He must have noticed this also because he said, “when the media is not behind it, they can’t even gather 1000 people”. 

Taner Yıldız: That’s exactly how it is.

3. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Yalçın Akdoğan (chief advisor to PM) 

A direct contact between Habertürk and PM Erdoğan is established through the PM’s cheif advisor Yalçın Akdoğan.  

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yesterday I was in Üsküdar, he invited me to his house.

Yalçın Akdoğan: Hmm.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: We spoke about certain things. He said you should be the bridge between him (PM Erdoğan) and myself. If you could also just talk to him.

Yalçın Akdoğan: Hmm. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: You understand what I am talking about, right?

Yalçın Akdoğan: Yes I know. I tried calling you when I was in Istanbul, your phone was switched off. I was going to say lets get together and talk things over.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes. I need to remain focused. I requested him to name one person (to function as a bridge) because quite often, different people want different things and say different things which contradict. When this happens, I get confused and get stuck in the middle. Then I have to act according to my own beliefs.

Yalçın Akdoğan: Yes

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: It hasn’t happened yet but this can result in errors. 

Yalçın Akdoğan: So let’s be in touch. You tell me ‘this goes there’..

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Lets meet face to face as well though. We can clarify things that way. One request I have of you, let me know in advance, one day or half a day in advance, because it is much harder to change things once they have been prepared. It will be easier in advance. 

Yalçın Akdoğan: Ok, god willing. 

Alo-Fatih 4

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Erdoğan scolds Mehmet Fatih Saraç. After the scolding, the Habertürk employees rally behind Saraç. Due to a news piece published on the 24th page of the daily newspaper, 3 employees are fired. 

1. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and PM Erdoğan. (TAPE ID: 2335155378) Date: 24.09.2013 Time: 11.54

PM Erdoğan: Fatih look, in today’s paper on page 24, there is an article that says “is this the Turkish healthcare’s step into the new age”. Its almost a whole page article. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: There is a leak (meaning it was an non-verified publication)

PM Erdoğan: Something happened, apparently the mother of a 3 year old kid weighing 3.5kg applied everywhere but was not attended to. She apparently wrote me letters, which I obviously don’t receive.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I understand sir. 

PM Erdoğan: It really upsets me when headlines like this one are published. They turn a blind eye to all that we do in terms of healthcare. How can this be?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I understand sir, no, no. It’s a disgrace sir. 

PM Erdoğan: Have a heart! How can you write such headlines?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: This is a disgrace sir.

PM Erdoğan: You say it’s a disgrace but once the headline is written, it is impossible to erase or remove the headline. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I understand sir. I’m now going to make a front page story of Mehmet Müezzinoğlu (Minister of Health)

PM Erdoğan: There is nothing we don’t do in Turkey. And then you give us one kick and destroy everything. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I understand.

PM Erdoğan: We can’t follow all of your publications individually from A to Z. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: This is our disgrace. It will not happen again, your orders sir. I will make a front page story of Mehmet Müezzinoğlu. 

PM Erdoğan: Ok, have a good day. 

2. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Fatih Altaylı (This audio recording is missing the TAPE ID) 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: The PM just called. He said, ‘we put in such an effort, thank you ever so much’ (being sarcastic) 

Fatih Altaylı: I though this might happen when I saw the article in the morning.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Give Müezzinoğlu a quick call so we can get a quote from him

Fatih Altaylı: Ok, ok.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: But he spoke very harshly. 

Fatih Altaylı: Ok, ok.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Give Müezzinoğlu a call immediately. 

3. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Fatih Altaylı (This audio recording is missing the TAPE ID)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Hello, so shall we do this? How shall we go about this news piece?

Fatih Altaylı: Well, the Ministry of Health is going to say that they did not receive any information. If they had, they would have done whatever was necessary. They will say it was the mistake of the doctor. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Was your team able to get hold of Müezzinoğlu?

Fatih Altaylı: I’ve been calling him myself. 

4. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Fatih Altaylı (This audio is missing TAPE ID) 

Fatih Altaylı: Turns out the Minister of Health is abroad. What shall we do?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Talk to one of his secretaries. 

Fatih Altaylı: Ok.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I can get the Minister on TV through a phone call. 

5. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Yalçın Akdoğan (This audio is missing TAPE ID)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Brother, first of all, I looked on my iPad at the pre-publication transcript for the news piece and its not on the 1st or 24th pages. So this news doesn’t exist. It looks like some ‘pitiful honourables’ entered this news piece around 2 AM only for the Istanbul print of the paper. It doesn’t exist in the paper published in Ankara or anywhere in Anatolia. They inserted it into the Istanbul publication in secrecy, by hiding it from me.  

Yalıçın Akdoğan: So they carried out an operation. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes. Only Istanbul. But it’s still my stupidity. 

6. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Yalçın Akdoğan (This audio is missing TAPE ID)

Yalıçın Akdoğan: Hello?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Just to let you know, including the editor, the 3 people who wrote the news have been fired as of now.

Yalıçın Akdoğan: Yes, and was it done intentionally?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ofcourse, they published it at 2AM in the morning. 

Yalıçın Akdoğan: Hmm ok. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Everyone including his secretary..

Alo-Fatih 3

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In this phone conversation, PM Erdoğan orders Mehmet Fatih Saraç to cut the live feed broadcasting MHP leader Bahçeli’s speech given at the weekly party meeting. 

  1. Conversation between PM Erdoğan and Mehmet Fatih Saraç (TAPE ID: 220789545) Date: 14.07.2013, Time: 12.44

 PM Erdoğan: Fatih are you watching the currently ongoing press release? 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Sir, I’m at home at the moment. Give me one minute to get out, do you mean the one on Habertürk?

PM Erdoğan:Yes

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: No sir, I’ve just turned it on.

PM Erdoğan: Fatih, are you aware of what you are doing? The man is issuing a menifesto, talking as if the country is derailed and sinking into collapse. And you are broadcasting this live, in full!  

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok, I’l have the live feed cut in 2-3 minutes sir.

PM Erdoğan: What is this? It’s not as if the live broadcast just started. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: But sir…

PM Erdoğan: It’s been 15-20 minutes, 25 minutes.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir, im passing on the message, getting it cut now. 

PM Erdoğan: What kind of disgrace is this? The man has been swearing at us since the beginning of his speech. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: We are broadcasting all political parties so that we have them on record. 

PM Erdoğan: And why would you have to record all the speeches? Are you forced to? Look at what the man is doing, as if the country is ruined… 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir.

PM Erdoğan: He is saying the country is taken over by traitors and that we are in cohort with these traitors. This is not an acceptable press statement. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Understood sir. 

PM Erdoğan: Oh my days…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I’m getting it cut right away sir. Sorry sir…

2. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Oğuz Usuluer (TAPE ID: 2207901119)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç gives the order to cut the ongoing live broadcast.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Oğuz, apart for us, no other channel provided a live broadcast of MHP leader Bahçeli’s groups speach.

Oğuz Usluer: NTV, CNN Türk and TRT..

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: No they apparently didn’t broadcast, they cut the broadcast. 

Oğuz Usluer: No they didn’t cut the broadcast Mr. Saraç. NTV, CNN Türk and TRT all aired it. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: But we provided it at greath length. 

Oğuz Usluer: We all gave it for the same length of time.. CNN started a bit later and ended a bit later. Maybe I aired it for 2 minutes longer because of our timing slots… 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Did TRT (state run TV channel) air it?

Oğuz Usluer: Yes, of course. His speech is currently ongoing anyway. We haven’t aired the whole thing. We aired the parts that relate to the Constitutional Process and the Peace Process (Kurdish)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok, lets not air the rest. Someone called me and told me he was upset. Ok? 

3. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Bilal Erdoğan (son of PM) (TAPE ID: 2207905018) 

Saraç attempts to justify why Bahçeli’s speech was broadcasted live on Habertürk and apologises. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: My dear Bilal, how are you, are you available? 

Bilal Erdoğan: Yes, go ahead. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: My elder called, told me I was airing Bahçeli’s speech live, asked me to cut it. Maybe you can somehow tell him, we air our broadcasts if TRT (state TV) are also broadcasting that feed. When they don’t, neither do we. TRT broadcasted (Bahçeli’s speech), A Haber broadcasted. My elder must have been following on Habertürk and caught us. I immediately ordered for the feed to be cut. The important thing is for him to not get upset. When he gets upset, I get very upset. I apologise. 

Bilal Erdoğan: Not at all, don’t mention it. 

After these conversations, Mehmet Fatih Saraç sends an SMS to Erdoğan (TAPE ID 2207927521) on the 14.07.2014 stating;

 “As long as you don’t get upset. I’m sorry, I just want you to know how much I persevere”

Alo- Fatih 2

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In the second leaked phone conversation (link to recording), we find out that a political opinion poll carried out by Konsensus for Habertürk was presented to PM Erdoğan by Mehmet Fatih Saraç prior to its publication. After taking directives from the PM at his house in Kısıklı (Istanbul), Saraç calls Habertürk’s executive editor Fatih Altaylı.

Fatih Altaylı states that the percentage of votes that the BDP gained in the survey is low. He adds that 3% of the votes gained by MHP can be transferred to the BDP. Fatih Saraç passes on the message to Tayyip Erdoğan through his son Bilal Erdoğan. After receiving the confirmation that the results of the survey should be changed (3% vote shift from MHP to BDP), Fatih Saraç gives the instructions to Habertürk’s editor-in-chief Fatih Altaylı.

This conversation shows how the results of election surveys are manipulated and published with false information in newspapers after directives are given by PM Erdoğan.

1. Conversation 1 (TAPE ID: 1977850740) Date: 13.03.2013 Time: 14:40

Fatih Altaylı: Editor-in-Chief of Habertürk newspaper

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Deputy Chairman of Ciner Media (owner of Haberturk TV)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes?

Fatih Altaylı: I say, how about I talk to the agency that did the survey and increase the percentage of votes the BDP got by 2%?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Why not take from the percentile of the MHP and add them to the BDP?

Fatih Altaylı: What?      

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Why not take from the percentile of the MHP and add them to the BDP?

Fatih Altaylı: We can take some from the percentile of the ‘undecided’ and some from the MHP, I will manipulate the results a bit.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes but I’ve got new information. I’m in Çamlıca (PM’s house in Kısıklı) so I’m going to talk to you about what to publish and what to do.

Fatih Altaylı: So lets talk about those..

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok, I’l leave and call you in half an hour.

Fatih Altaylı: Ok. Bye.

2. Conversation between Mehmet Fatih Saraç and Bilal Erdoğan (PM’s son) (TAPE ID: 1977950302) Date: 13.03.2013 Time: 15.24

Bilal Erdoğan: Hmm.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: You grasp the issue right?

Bilal Erdoğan: Yes yes, I am greatly aware

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Because they are going to recede to 2.5%. There is a slide (voter beavioural shift) from BDP to AKP, and from CHP to MHP. Now if we do this, these guys will put their foot on the break, that is what I think when I do this. But so that you know, I am taking from the other side (taking 2.5% of the votes predicted for MHP) and adding them to the BDP.

Bilal Erdoğan: So you took the 2-3% and transferred them over there.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yep

Bilal Erdoğan: Ok.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: From MHP, to there. From MHP to there.

3. Conversation between Mehmet Ali Saraç and Fatih Altaylı (TAPE ID 1978018181) Date: 13.03.2013. Time: 15.56

Fatih Altaylı: Hello?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Brother, he thanked you very much for the sensitivity.

Fatih Altaylı: Yep

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: From MHP, in that direction (referring to BDP).

Fatih Altaylı: Ok, thats what I’l do.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: From MHP

Fatih Altaylı: Ok thats what I’m going to do, don’t worry.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Agreed. Thank you

Alo-Fatih 1

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The first leaked telephone recording documents (link to recording) the orders PM Erdoğan gives to Habertürk in relation to President Abdullah Gül and leader of the opposition MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), Devlet Bahçeli. 

On June 4, 2013, Devlet Bahçeli met with President Gül. After the meeting, he gave a statement to the press. Habertürk published a news ticker from the speech that reads, “D. Bahçeli invites Gül to assume responsibility in terms of the Gezi incident”. In response, Erdoğan gives the directive to remove the ticker and cut the feed. 

Conversation 1. (TAPE ID 2135802586) Date: 04.06.2013 / Time: 11.31 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Deputy Chairman of Ciner Media (owner of Haberturk TV)

PM Erdoğan: Prime Minister Erdoğan

PM Erdoğan: These guys are unbelievable. One has to call them one by one… (before Saraç answers the phone)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Hello? 

PM: Fatih look, I’m in Morocco watching the television and Bahçeli’s entire speech is being transmitted in the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I understand sir. Ok. 

PM: And the caption says “the President’s primary duty is not to arrange meetings but to remedy the situation outside of these meetings. It is to use these meetings as a stepping stone towards a peaceful solution.” 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir. 

PM: So, Bahçeli made this statement and your channel is constantly reporting this statement  in the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir, I understand sir. Right away. 

PM: You always say ‘I understand’ but its unbelievable, there is no need for this

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Umm ok, umm, I’m at your order. Everything is clear now. 

PM: You need to immediately.. do it

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I’m doing it right away sir. 

After the reprimand, Fatih Saraç calls an employee of Habertürk by the name of Abdullah and asks him to intervene in the live feed. 

Conversation 2: (TAPE ID 2135805374)

Abdullah: Hello

Fatih Saraç: Abdullah, can you please urgently remove the news on Bahçeli and the news ticker that we are broadcasting. 

Abdullah: Ok I’ve removed it

Fatih Saraç: Do what you have to do but do it immediately

Abdullah: Its been removed, its removed

Fatih Saraç: Hmm 

Abdullah: We’ve removed it, you mean the current one right?

Fatih Saraç: Yes, remove it immediately. 

Abdullah: Its removed, there’s only the sliding news at the bottom of the screen

Fatih Saraç: Remove the sliding news at the bottom as well immediately please, just forget it, remove it. 

Conversation 3: (TAPE ID: 2135807189)

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: PM called me. He told me that we are broadcasting the statement ‘the president’s duty is to intervene’. 

Kenan: Yes boss

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: He told me that he was in Morocco, that I was tiring him.

Kenan: Brother what can we do. How shall we do the last minute broadcasts? When Bahçeli makes a statement, we publish it. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: He says he’s watching from Morocco, lets remove this story and ease the atmosphere. 

Conversation 4: (TAPE ID: 2135823098)

Abdullah: Yes Mr. Fatih? 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Did you sort it out Abdullah? 

Abdullah: We removed both the image and the sliding news ticker. He (Bahçeli) has more moderate statements, we are about to enter those. 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Who overlooked this?

Abdullah: No one overlooked anything… 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: What did the man say? (referring to Bahçeli)

Abdullah: He said ‘the President should take steps to create the grounds for a peaceful solution’. We entered this statement exactly as it is. We didn’t broadcast it like the other channels… 

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: OK thats true. But there are also statements along the lines of ‘I have power to prevent this issue. If the government can’t do it, I won’t let them do it. (implying this sentence would be better suited for publication)

Abdullah: No that sentence is after ‘The Nationalists will not go out on the street’.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç:  Oh ok. So: ‘The Nationalists will not go out on the street. We will not help them inadvertently’. Full stop 

Abdullah: Ok brother

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: In that sentence, there is a call for calmness towards the Nationalists. But in the other sentence, the PM doesn’t want to share his authority and power with anyone else. Ok? 

The ‘ALO- FATIH’ scandal: Leaked phone conversations of Prime Minister Erdoğan and media executives confirms government interference in mainstream media

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These days, the discussions in Turkey centre on media censorship and government coercion of mainstream media establishments. Restrictions on press freedom is nothing new in Turkey. However, since February 4th, 2014, a number of recorded telephone conversations have been leaked onto the internet which seem to give the public a more tangible indication of how exactly mainstream media establishments are muzzled. If we are to believe the authenticity of the recordings, they prove beyond any shadow of doubt the level of government control and censorship over the content published by the Turkish media.

First of all, the authenticity of the leaked telephone recordings have not been officially validated. However, both PM Erdoğan and journalist Fatih Altaylı – two individuals who feature in the recordings – have given tacit acceptance to the authenticity of the recordings in the following ways.

In PM Erdoğan’s case, he admitted to making a phone call to the media organisation Habertürk from Morocco – the context of one leaked conversation. Fatih Altaylı attended a television interview after his implication in the leaks, stating the honor of journalism is being trampled on. Instructions rain down every day from various places. Can you write what you want? Everybody is afraid”.

The mainstream media organisations in Turkey are owned by conglomerates that have business interests in the energy, construction and mining sectors which are heavily dependent on government contracts. Not surprisingly, this results in such media outlets playing to the tune of the government. The leaked phone conversations thus far concerns the publications of Habertürk in specific. Habertürk is a media group that has both a newspaper and a TV channel.

So far, 6 telephone recordings have been leaked. I will be publishing the transcriptions of the leaked phone conversations as they appear on the web.