Germany accuses Turkey of ‘unacceptable’ spying against Gülen supporters

Boris Pistorius (R), the Interior Minister for Lower Saxony State of Germany. Photo: @borispistorius

Boris Pistorius, the Interior Minister for Lower Saxony State of Germany, has accused Turkey of carrying out “unacceptable” spying on its soil amid allegations that Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime sent agents after more than 300 people.

It is accused of conducting espionage in more than 200 associations and schools linked to supporters of the exiled Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen. Pistorius said the move was “intolerable and unacceptable.”

“The intensity and ruthlessness with which people abroad are being investigated is remarkable,” the minister told a press conference on Tuesday. He said there was “no evidence that Gülen supporters in Germany had anything to do with the attempted coup.”

Pistorius accused the Turkish government of having an “almost paranoid fear of conspiracy” and of trying to silence its critics, with over 47,000 arrested in the post-coup crackdown on Gülen supporters.

Gülen movement has been inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen who has been advocating science education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and community contribution. The movement promotes a moderate version of Islam with a heavy emphasis on public service. The movement runs schools and universities in 180 countries.

Gülen has been a vocal critic of Turkish government and Turkey’s autocratic President  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on massive corruption in the government as well as Turkey’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria. Erdoğan launched an unprecedented persecution against Gülen and his followers in December 2013 right after major corruption probe that incriminated Erdoğan’s family members.

The ruling AKP’s Islamist leaders labelled the movement as ‘FETÖ’, a terrorist organization, although Gülen, 75-year old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather remained staunchly opposed to any violence, radicalism and terror in the name of religion.

German media reported that the head of Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency demanded help spying on hundreds sympathizers of Gülen movement from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) during last month’s Munich Security Conference.

Some of the images included on a list of names were allegedly secretly recorded using CCTV and other means, showing they had been gained using espionage.

According to a report by British daily the Independent, a German security official stated that, “We are horrified at how openly Turkey reveals that it is spying on Turks living here.” Prosecutors are already investigating the use of imams to transmit information on the sympathizers of Gülen movement to Ankara from German mosques. Authorities in Lower Saxony and elsewhere are planning to warn those named on the list not to travel to Turkey, fearing they will be detained.

German authorities have already started an investigation over whether the Turkish intelligence service MİT has been spying on supporters of the Gülen movement in Germany. Thomas de Maizière, German interior minister, said it was a “criminal offence” to carry out espionage activities on German soil, and they “will not be tolerated by us.” “That applies to all foreign states and all intelligence services,” he said.

“We have repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable. No matter what position someone may have on the Gülen movement, here German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries,” he said.

Commenting to BBC on the issue on Tuesday, Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz), said, “Outside Turkey I don’t think anyone believes that the Gülen movement was behind the attempted putsch.”

“At any rate I don’t know anyone outside Turkey who has been convinced by the Turkish government,” he added.

Ankara has accused Gülen of plotting an attempted coup against the Turkish President in July, but he has denied involvement and the allegations are doubted by much of Europe and the US.

Gülen called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a great gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

The Turkish President hit out at the head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service on Friday for suggesting Berlin is not convinced that Gülen orchestrated July’s coup. Bruno Kahl told Der Spiegel magazine that Turkey tried to “convince us on a number of different levels. But they haven’t yet been successful.”

A report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee found that evidence of the Gülen movement’s involvement in the group was “anecdotal and circumstantial,” as was evidence used for its terrorist designation by the Turkish government.

“While some of the individuals involved in the coup may have been Gülenists, given the large number of Gülenist supporters and organizations in Turkey, it does not necessarily follow that the Gülenists were responsible for the coup or that their leadership directed the coup,” MPs concluded last week.

Similarly, Devin Nunes, chairman of United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said last week that he has not seen any evidence showing Gülen’s involvement in the failed coup attempt in Turkey.

A lack of evidence caused Barack Obama’s administration to refuse Ankara’s calls to extradite Gülen from his home in Pennsylvania. Refusals by the American government and much of Europe to recognize the accusations has worsened relations with Turkey amid Erdoğan’s anger over international criticism of crackdowns in the military, government and media since the coup.

Earlier in January, a report prepared by the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (IntCen) revealed that although President Erdoğan and the Turkish government immediately put the blame for the July 15 failed coup on the faith-based Gülen movement, the coup attempt was staged by a range of Erdoğan’s opponents due to fears of an impending purge, according to a report by The Times newspaper.

Over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged over their alleged links to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

As of March 23, 94,982 people were being held without charge, with an additional 47,128 in pre-trial detention over their alleged links to the movement. A total of 7,317 academics were also purged as well as 4,272 judges and prosecutors, who were dismissed due to alleged involvement in the July 15 coup attempt.

March 28, 2017

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