Journalist targeted by minister for reporting on large sum granted to foundation belonging to Erdoğan’s son-in-law

Journalist İsmail Arı said he was targeted by Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank for publishing a piece about a large grant awarded by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) to the Turkish Technology Team Foundation (T3), managed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar and his brother.

According to Arı’s piece, published in the BirGün daily on Saturday, 7.6 million lira ($900,000) was granted to T3 to organize the TEKNOFEST technology festival, where young scientists can exhibit their projects.

Varank denied the allegations on Twitter. “These are dishonest allegations. TÜBİTAK has been encouraging young scientists every year with grants for the past 16 years. They will continue to encourage youngsters despite these slanders,” he said.

Selçuk Bayraktar’s brother Haluk Bayraktar denied the allegations on Twitter, saying they are faced with the same lie every year.

In a statement T3 said TÜBİTAK did not transfer any funds to them. “Just like other stakeholders, TÜBİTAK uses its own resources to organize its own competitions [that are part of the festival],” it said.

Arı said his report was accurate and that the Public Tender Bulletin had already disclosed the amount of money spent on the festival. “Everyone can access this information, but ever since I have written about it, I have been threatened by [pro-government Twitter] trolls and subjected to insults,” he added.

Arı said he was directly targeted by Varank and that threats had increased after his tweet. One Twitter user called Arı a “PKK agent,” referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and said he would beat Arı wherever he saw him. In response,  Arı said if anything were to happen to him, Varank was directly responsible.

Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

One out of every four journalists was subjected to physical violence, and half of them received threats in 2020, a report released in February by the TGC showed.

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