Turkish researcher ‘threatened’ and ‘harassed’ over tough question to Gül
Tolga Tanış WASHINGTON
Emrah Altındış (R) is a biologist working in a research center at Harvard University.A Turkish academic researcher who pressed former President Abdullah Gül on the government’s human rights record during a panel in Boston in May claims to have “received threats” and been harassed, mostly by fake online accounts.
Emrah Altındış, a biologist working in a research center at Harvard University, took the floor after Gül’s speech at Harvard earlier this year, questioning whether the former head of state had a “clear conscience” after the government’s crackdown on last year’s nationwide Gezi protests.
“How do you sleep at night when people are dying in Turkey? Aren’t you ashamed to be at the head of such a state?” Altındış asked, shocking many as Turkish government officials usually strive to avoid facing criticism in their public appearances. The question sparked an uneasy mood in the conference room and even Gül, known for his softly spoken demeanor, did not hide his annoyance, saying: “Now, listen to me: No one would let you ask this kind of question so easily.”
Altındış said the episode has had enduring consequences for him. He said harassment began in July, when assistants in his university department claimed he had links with the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), based on emails sent to them.
“It was clear from the details given about the organization that the email was written by people who knew very well the sensitivity of an average American about terrorist groups,” he said, adding that the message was sent by a fake account and he had not been able to determine the true identity of the sender.
Altındaş also said he has received around 100 insulting messages calling him a “Jewish seed,” “Greek seed,” “Armenian seed,” “Bloodless Kurd,” and “traitor.” Some messages have also included death threats, he added.
He also said a number of female online profile accounts have pressed for a meeting with him. “My lawyers here have detected that these accounts are linked to different addresses in Turkey and Europe. When we looked into it, we saw that most of these profiles were fake. Maybe a deep mind was conspiring to shame me, or force me to apologize,” Altındaş said.
On the day after he asked the question, a fake Twitter account in his name was opened, prompting him to enter the social media world to clarify the situation.
Nevertheless, despite the trouble that it has caused, Altındiş says he does not regret raising the question.
“If it resulted in the tiniest relief for families who have been the victims of human rights violations, this will give me satisfaction for a lifetime. Besides, courage is contagious. People saw that the wall of fear can be torn down when people come together. I believe that these anti-democratic walls will be torn down again. What I have experienced is no exception to the many people paying the price for democracy and freedom,” he said.