Reports of widespread wiretapping make waves in Ankara

Reports of widespread wiretapping make waves in Ankara

Reports of widespread wiretapping make waves in Ankara

The mass eavesdropping started after a probe launched by a specially authorized prosecutor in 2011 targeted five people, including PM Erdoğan, reports said. DHA Photo

Thousands of people, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, national intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and a wide range of journalists, academics, business leaders and NGO representatives, have been wiretapped for years by the police as part of different probes, Turkish media claimed Feb. 24. The reports prompted a top judicial body to open an internal investigation into the claims, but were dismissed by the prosecutor involved in the cases.

The classified files on the wiretappings were found in the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office by the new prosecutors who were assigned following mass purges in the judiciary, pro-government dailies Star and Yeni Şafak claimed in separate but similar reports.

Yeni Şafak reported that up to 3,064 people have been wiretapped according to the first documents found by the newly appointed prosecutors, while Star alleged that the real number is likely close to 7,000.

The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) has launched an investigation into the prosecutors and courts involved in the cases cited by the reports. However, the prosecutor who allegedly launched the probes that led to the mass wiretappings dismissed the claims and said it was impossible to track the phones of so many people at once.

2,280 names were found: Deputy PM

The reports were later confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who said 107 folders containing the phone numbers of 2,280 had been found and were under investigation. 

“It is understood that [those who were wiretapped] included the 2,280 people whose phone numbers were found in 107 folders. It was discovered that this investigation, which has been ongoing for three years, was exclusively followed by the prosecutors in charge who listened to many people, including scholars, artists, writers and politicians, based on an advice note,” Arınç said following a Cabinet meeting on Feb. 24, adding that the reports had also been on the agenda.

Brushing aside claims that the government could have been aware of the wiretappings, Arınç hinted the Justice Ministry may make public who was wiretapped and why after completing its own investigation. “These are entirely illegal eavesdropping requests and decisions. It is absolutely necessary to express an apology to everyone who has been wiretapped and their relatives,” he said. 

The eavesdropping started after a probe launched by a specially authorized prosecutor in 2011 and targeted five people, including Erdoğan. According to the reports, the scope of the wiretappings was initially extended to Erdoğan’s close circle, such as his top political adviser, Yalçın Akdoğan, press adviser Lütfullah Göktaş and Efkan Ala, the former Prime Ministry undersecretary who was appointed interior minister following the Dec. 17, 2013, graft scandal.

Another sensitive name in the list is Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

The list of the wiretapped people was gradually widened, particularly in the wake of the Gezi protests last summer and the graft probes launched in mid-December, the reports claimed. 

According to the reports, other wiretapped figures include Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Head Numan Kurtulmuş, People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) co-chair Sabahat Tuncel, Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Tunceli (Dersim) MP Hüseyin Aygün, Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil, Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) head Bülent Yıldırım, academic Hüseyin Yayman, and journalists from a wide spectrum of the Turkish media such as Can Dündar, Ertuğrul Özkök, Ali Bayramoğlu, Hakan Çelik, Nihal Bengisu Karaca and İsmail Küçükkaya. 

The eavesdropping was justified on the grounds that the figures were members of an alleged “Selam Terror Organization” – “Selam” meaning hello/peace in Turkish – the reports also claimed.  

‘None of the names were in the files’

Prosecutor Adnan Çimen, who was reportedly in charge of the case, described the reports as unfounded, adding that none of the names were actually contained in the investigation files. 

“I have indeed carried out an investigation against such an organization, but none of the [names] claimed to have been eavesdropped on were included in the case. [The reports] are false,” Çimen told daily Radikal Feb. 24, adding that he had asked inspectors to examine the claims. 

“Is it possible to tap 7,000 people? [Making such a claim] lacks dignity. The investigation I have conducted was an ordinary investigation into a criminal organization,” he said, adding that another prosecutor had taken over the case at a certain point. 

The allegations come as a number of recorded phone conversations of Erdoğan with media and business representatives were leaked online, prompting the ruling AKP to harden its stance against the movement of the U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, which it accuses of orchestrating the graft probes and releasing the tapes. Erdoğan has repeatedly described the Gülen Movement’s grip on the Police Department and the judiciary as a “parallel state” throughout the political crisis that emerged after the graft scandal.

Gülen lawyer condemns accusations

Meanwhile, lawyers representing Gülen condemned what they described as attempts to accuse the Islamic scholar through the claims, calling for those responsible to be punished if the allegations turn out to be true. 

“If it is true that 7,000 people who have no ideological links have been wiretapped as part of a single investigation, then those responsible should be punished,” lawyer Nurullah Albayrak has said in a statement, suggesting that the reports were an attempt to distract attention from the government’s controversial recent bills on the judiciary, the Internet and the national intelligence agency.

Albayrak added that both the HSYK and the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office should investigate the claims.

Erdoğan recently stated that he had been notified that a large number of people, including himself, his family, President Abdullah Gül and Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek, had all been wiretapped. He explicitly referred to what he called members of an “illegal gang within the state” as being responsible for the eavesdropping on senior state and government officials.