COMMENTARY — Journalist thrown in solitary as Erdoğan’s latest scheme unfolds

By Abdullah Bozkurt

Faced with hard facts and bitter truths that exposed his corrupt Islamist regime, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has always found a sanctuary in false flags, conspiracy schemes and forged evidence to shift the blame, find a scapegoat and avoid any accountability whatsoever.

Now he is doing it again by trying to extract a coerced, false confession from a veteran journalist Fevzi Yazıcı, who was put in solitary confinement after being kept for 500 days in pretrial detention in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison. The goal is not only to undermine a US federal case in New York that revealed Erdoğan’s sanction busting regime for Iran in exchange for bribes but also to discredit new revelations in the eyes of the Turkish people.

Yazıcı was asked to sign a statement claiming that a document which allegedly showed a link between a Turkish judge and US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a vocal opponent of Erdoğan, came from his computer, which was seized during a raid on his house. The document, apparently forged, was mysteriously discovered on Yazıcı’s computer just around the time an Iranian gold trader was revealing the dirt on the Erdoğan regime. Even though the safety of his family was threatened, Yazıcı refused to sign a statement saying he had been in possession of the forged document. He was thrown in a hole, with his captors warning him to stay there until he confessed to what they wanted.

Although the journalist has already been in jail for 500 days, and the indictment that lists the charges against him along with evidence makes no mention of such a document, the prosecutor claimed investigators stumbled upon it by chance. How convenient. This recalls the infamous February 2015 incident in which pro-government dailies came up with an assassination plot against the president’s daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan, which involved Umut Oran, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and US-based investigative journalist and analyst Emre Uslu as alleged co-conspirators. The target was to smear the main opposition political party ahead of parliamentary elections. However, the plan fell apart when Oran disclosed his private Twitter messages in official documents he obtained from the micro-blogging site, which showed no trace of any contact between him and Uslu. The case collapsed when the lead public prosecutor concluded that it was a hoax, prompting the government to remove him from the case.

Erdoğan must be desperate given the fact that he went to such extremes, manufacturing a document that showed a forged signature of Gülen and fabricated content that bears no resemblance to the cleric’s writing style. I guess he realized the storyline he made up after the 2013 graft investigation was collapsing and that he needed something dramatic to change the tide for his own backers. But, the bringing up of forged evidence in US federal court by lawyers who were hired by the Erdoğan government to defend Hakan Atilla, a senior executive of state lender Halkbank, was a tactical mistake. His government might be exposed to more charges once the document, which was not entered into evidence but was merely floated by Atilla’s lawyers during the hearing, is confirmed to be fake after a forensic examination.

The fall guy in this scheme of Erdoğan is unfortunately the 45-year-old former design director of Turkey’s one-time highest circulating daily, Zaman, who was detained on July 27, 2016 and formally arrested on Aug. 5, 2016 on trumped-up coup and terrorism charges. Public prosecutor Can Tuncay asked the court to hand him down three aggravated life sentences, the equivalent of three capital punishments since Turkey abolished the death penalty in August 2002, on terrorism and coup plotting charges. But that did not satisfy the partisan, vendetta-seeking prosecutor, who also demanded an additional 15 years’ jail time on separate charges. That was before this forged document suddenly and conveniently surfaced. I guess the prosecutor will now add several more life sentences.

This is a complete mockery of Turkey’s criminal justice system, which the government has weaponized to punish critics and opponents, abusing penal code articles to jail some 55,000 innocent people including over 250 journalists in the last year or so. The indictment against Yazıcı included what the prosecutor claimed was criminal evidence, such as membership in a journalists union called Pak-İş Medya Sendikası which was shut down by the government following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The union was a duly registered entity, recognized by the government and authorized to conduct unionizing activities and recruit membership among media professionals, journalists and writers. It defies logic when the union was perfectly legal and Yazıcı and other journalists were members of a union that was recognized by the government.

The arrest of Yazıcı, well known in the world design community as a member of the Society for News Design (SND), brought condemnation from his colleagues. Former SND president David Kordalski had said that “The plight of my friend Fevzi Yazıcı and the other brave journalists in Turkey is a stark reminder that it’s more important than ever to fight for the unfettered flow of information.”

Mario García, a leading figure in news design and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, published a statement on his personal blog about him, saying, “Those of us in the design community who know, admire and have worked with Fevzi Yazıcı, are saddened to hear of his arrest.”

The new plot against Yazıcı shocked a colleague at The Washington Post. Greg Manifold, the design director at the paper, tweeted on Tuesday, “Unbelievable news out of Turkey about friend Fevzi Yazici (@fevziyazici). His name should be in the news because he was being released, not for what sounds like a doctored document allegedly found on his computer.”

Yazıcı brought revolutionary changes in page design for broadsheet newspapers in Turkey with his artistic work in page layout that has earned him 119 Awards of Excellence and three Silver Medals since 2003 in worldwide competitions among top-notch newspapers. He was also one of the supporters of SND and served as a judge in competitions while sponsoring several design events in Turkey.

He is best known for the annual +1T Design Days conferences that he led as organizer in İstanbul while working as art director for the Zaman daily. Dozens of journalists were trained in these workshops, which were attended by top names in the art and design community around the world. “I, like many other designers from around the world, have been honoured to speak at this conference and that is how we got to know about Fevzi and the incredibly good work he has carried out,” García recalled while issuing a statement of concern about his arrest last year.

The fresh plot against Yazıcı was revealed when he did not appear for a Dec. 11 hearing in a case in which he and 17 other defendants, including veteran journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, are being tried on serious charges at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court. He was in jail and should have been brought to the courtroom. It turned out he was detained again three days ago on separate charges and taken from his cell in Silivri Prison to the police station for questioning. Neither his lawyer nor family members was notified. The new charge was defaming an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish cell called Tahşiyeciler, which was led by Mehmet Doğan (aka Mollah Muhammed), a radical cleric who called for armed jihad, praised Osama bin Laden and urged the killing of non-Muslims.

Turkey became acquainted with Tahşiyeciler in 2009 when police raided cells operated by the radical Islamist group and found caches of weapons and arms in safe houses. Many of its members were arrested, charged and tried. The Erdoğan government helped extricate the group from legal troubles in 2014 when Doğan, the leader of the group, was vouched for by Erdoğan. At the invitation of the government several members of this radical group filed a complaint against the police chiefs and prosecutors who investigated the al-Qaeda-linked group and journalists who wrote critically about it.

In July 2014, based on these complaints, the Erdoğan government arrested 76 top police inspectors who were involved in investigating this radical group and were uncovering the corruption network in which Erdoğan and his associates were incriminated. Hidayet Karaca, a journalist who headed the critical Samanyolu TV network, was also arrested for discrediting the al-Qaeda militants. When the unlawful arrests were challenged due to a lack of evidence, judges Metin Özçelik and Mustafa Başer ruled for their release in April 2015, citing the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). But the Erdoğan government did not enforce the judgment and instead dismissed Özçelik and Başer, who were later arrested on fabricated terrorism charges.

The fake letter that was attributed to Gülen purportedly showed that Gülen wrote the letter to these judges asking for the release of the investigators. It was aimed to show that Gülen had control of the judiciary when the government failed to present any evidence tying the cleric to the Turkish judiciary, in a clandestine scheme, since the December 2013 graft investigations that were branded by Erdoğan as a coup.

The Turkish government also hoped to discredit Hüseyin Korkmaz, a former deputy police chief in the İstanbul Police Department Financial Crimes Unit who appeared in the US federal trial as a government witness. Korkmaz was among the team of investigators who investigated Reza Zarrab and his links to Turkish government ministers in a graft scheme. Korkmaz was jailed for over a year in a Dec. 25, 2013 probe in which he played no role as investigator and was later released pending charges.

It appears Erdoğan’s house of cards based on lies, smears and deceits is collapsing as more and more evidence is unearthed in the US court. The official narrative we continuously hear from the Turkish government, which is bent on scapegoating and shifting the blame to others for every shortcoming and failure in its governance, has totally lost its credibility. The world now sees Europe’s last Islamist dictator for what he is: a crooked politician who enriched himself through corruption schemes while sleeping with the Iranian mullahs. When caught red-handed, he shifted the blame to innocents and forged evidence to make the storyline credible. (turkishminute.com)

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