Is our fellow colleague in jail for tweets?
When I took a quick look at the indictment prepared for the executives of daily Cumhuriyet and the Cumhuriyet Foundation, one of the strange aspects among many that drew my attention was the focus on the intense communication traffic between journalist Kadri Gürsel and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
Among 19 defendants, Gürsel seems to be the person who has had the most communication with FETÖ members. It says in the indictment that Gürsel has “communication records” with 92 suspects who were users of ByLock, a smartphone application that came into prominence after July 15, 2016, and 21 people who are under investigation launched into FETÖ. In this case, Gürsel, accused of assisting FETÖ, has communicated a total of (92+21) 113 FETÖ suspects. The space covering these contacts of his is 11 pages in the 306-page indictment.
If I had not personally known Gürsel, maybe I would have taken this claim seriously to a certain extent. I worked with him closely for almost five years for the daily Milliyet between 2005 and 2009; then our acquaintance continued.
I can say that I know his world views very well; the perspective on life of this friend of mine, who I am proud to have known and to have worked with. He is a person with a categorically negative view toward the Gülen community. Also, as certain liberal and leftist journalists and writers have done, he did not flirt with the community in the past; he set up a thick wall between himself and them.
Gürsel was able to convey a public message through main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Utku Çakırözler, who visited him in Silivri Prison last week. Gürsel totally rejected the claims and had a logical explanation on how the prosecutor had based these accusations.
What Gürsel remembered was that in 2014, when the wave of mass arrests of Gülenists started, he received hundreds of text messages on his mobile phone from what he believed were from Fethullahists asking him to take action. At that time, Gürsel was an active journalist, hosting a television show. These short messages may have been considered as communication. “But I never contacted them. I did not even answer them. It is against the natural flow of life that I am in contact with so many people from different professions and in different regions of Turkey,” he said.
Another aspect our colleague has suspected is that there could be ByLock users and thus FETÖ suspects among his 350,000 odd followers on Twitter who may have retweeted his posts, which might have prompted the prosecutor to regard them as “contacts.”
Gürsel called on the judiciary to explain the nature of the communication. “Did they call me, did they send a message, or did they retweet? Or have I called them?” he asked.
This is more than a Kadri Gürsel problem; it is a problem concerning every citizen. The messages you have posted on social media can be shared and multiplied by people you don’t know. If there is a person who has downloaded the ByLock program on their cell phones among those who shared your tweet, does this mean you are associated to FETÖ?
Let us not forget there are more than 200,000 ByLock users in Turkey. This is a dangerous path for all Turkish citizens, since it contains the possibility that the text messages sent to your phone can be used as a criminal charge against you some day.
Apparently it has become a legal routine for prosecutors to accuse any citizen using social media for messages that they are at the passive recipient end of.
“A message you get on your cell phone, the sharing of your messages that you have posted on social media or receiving an email on your email account and that this action was done by a person who is a ByLock user do not constitute any criminal liability from your point of view. Moreover, a ByLock user may call you and you can pick up, you can listen to him and talk to him. The important aspect here is whether there is a criminal intention there. For it to have criminal intentions, you should know that that person is a ByLock user; also you should be aware that the communication set up with you is affiliated with the illegal ByLock activity or a criminal activity. Only then there could be a criminal intention. In Gürsel’s case, none of these are true,” Gürsel’s lawyer Köksal Bayraktar said.
Since there is a dangerous trend here, which could happen to any citizen, I especially wanted to focus on this aspect of the indictment.