Why fear wiretapping if you have no illegal business?
As absurd as the question in the headline sounds, this is what a Turkish minister said in 2009 when a main opposition party lawmaker criticized the practice of widespread wiretapping in the country.
“If you do nothing wrong, if you have no illegal business, don’t be afraid of wiretapping. Talk [on the phone] as much as you like,” Binali Yıldırım, then-minister of transportation and communication, told lawmakers in Parliament in January 2009. “If you don’t want to be eavesdropped on, then don’t use [your phones],” added Yıldırım, who is now the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) mayoral candidate in İzmir for March 30 elections.
At the time he offered this simple solution to keep your personal life private, the government and the Fethullah Gülen movement, commonly known now as “Cemaat,” were enjoying the best days of their alliance. The pro-government media and the media close to the Cemaat published phone conversations, surveillance footage and photographs of Ergenekon and Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) suspects. Most of the conversations published had nothing to do with the case and according to the law they should have been destroyed. But the prosecutors, much to the joy of the government and the Cemaat, included them in their indictments and leaked them to be published.
Now that the Gülen movement seems to have parted ways with the ruling AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the government and its supporters put all the blame of past sins on the Cemaat, claiming to be the victims. They want the public to ignore the fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan and his AKP have been enjoying a one-party rule in Turkey for more than 10 years.
The government’s efforts to position itself as the victim stems from the latest recordings leaked onto the Internet. In one of them, Erdoğan reportedly orders his son, Bilal Erdoğan, to get rid of the cash kept at home on Dec. 17, 2013, hours after a massive corruption probe was launched against suspects, including Cabinet members. According to the phone conversation played by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu at a CHP parliamentary group meeting on Feb. 25, the Erdoğans talk five times in two days over the phone about where the money should be transferred to.
While Erdoğan claims that the recording is a “montage and dubbing” and blamed the “parallel state/Cemaat” for creating it, Kılıçdaroğlu claims experts have checked the tape and “it’s as real as Mount Ararat.” However, the country’s technology minister yesterday said “I felt the recordings are fake at first sight” and added that there was no need for technical checks.
Since my sound technological senses are not as sharp as the minister’s, I cannot confirm the authenticity of the leaked recording. But whether it is genuine or fake, Erdoğan will continue the fight in the way he knows best: Positioning himself and his party as a victim.
Erdoğan spent three months in prison in 1999 when he was convicted of “inciting hatred based on religious differences” for quoting a poem, a fact that he reminds voters of in almost all his speeches. His party increased its votes in the 2007 snap elections right after the military issued a memorandum on the presidential elections, and also gained sympathy when prosecutors sought to shut down the party in 2008.
In addition to military coup plans targeting the AKP, the party’s supporters consider any major opposition against the government as an “attack on the national will” and an “attempt to topple the government in a civilian coup.” Since the Gezi protests last June, the first real challenge to Erdoğan’s reign in the country, he has named almost 20 lobbies trying to topple the government, including the “the interest rate lobby,” “the Jewish lobby,” “the preacher lobby,” “the booze lobby,” “the porn lobby,” “the potato lobby,” and most recently “the robot lobby.”
The prime minister is now a staunch enemy of illegal recordings and probes, which he believes the Cemaat is behind, and is rushing laws to grip government control over the judiciary, police, intelligence agency and the Internet. Having used leaked sex tapes of opposition members in party rallies as a propaganda tool, the prime minister says “traitors” are wiretapping his private conversations with family members.
So Erdoğan will head to the local elections as the “victim” again. We will see if the strategy works once more.