Pro-Erdoğan media, fanatics continue to harass critical Turkish journalists in US

Journalist Emre Uslu was also harassed by Turkey’s state-run media in front of his US home.

Turkey’s pro-Erdoğan media and fanatics continue to harass dissident Turkish journalists who live in exile in the US. Former Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici and Emre Uslu, a former columnist for Today’s Zaman daily have become the latest victims of the harassment. The both newspapers were shuttered by Turkish government last year.

According to tweets from Emre Uslu, a staunch critic of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and an academic at Virginia International University, he was harassed by Safvan Allahverdi, state-run Anadolu news agency’s DC reporter, as he was leaving his residence on Friday.

After a series of reports in the Turkish and US press last year that Turkish journalists who are living in exile in the US due to their critical views of Erdoğan were being surveilled by pro-government media members, including from the state-run Anadolu news agency, the incident came days before President Erdoğan’s visit to the US on May 16-17.

Sharing a photo of Allahverdi and his crew who recorded a video of him without his permission, Uslu said they left when they saw that he was calling the police.

Anadolu and Allahverdi also posted video footage of questions directed at Uslu in front of his house, saying, “FETÖ fugitive Uslu was caught in front of his house in Virginia.”

“FETÖ,” or the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization, is a derogatory term coined by President Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement, a global civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Allahverdi also shared a photo that shows a sign in front of Uslu’s office saying “This is Emre Uslu’s office in the FETO-linked Virginia International University.”

Following Anadolu’s reports, Uslu was also targeted in social media by people who are supporters of the AKP government and Erdoğan, including Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Abdurrahim Boynukalın.

In a tweet, which also included the video of Uslu, Boynukalın said: “You will be a dishonored fugitive for your entire life. Turkey will be more powerful. And wherever you go, we will find you.”

Former president of the AKP Youth Wing and current AKP deputy Boynukalın was among a group of around 200 assailants who stormed the Hürriyet newspaper’s building in İstanbul in September 2015 for reports that were critical of the government.

Meanwhile, former Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici was also subjected to harassment by Islom Shakhbandarov, CEO of the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center and also a staunch supporter of President Erdoğan’s policies, during an event hosted by the Dayton Council on World Affairs titled “Freedom of the Press and Democracy” on May 1.

Speaking with Turkish Minute on Saturday, Bilici said Shakhbandarov interrupted his speech and called him a “traitor” as he was leaving Sinclair College, where the event took place.

“He tried to tease me with questions and interruptions to my speech. I tried to answer his questions. I told him that I respect his views. In solidarity with the Ahiska Turks who faced many difficulties in their land, I offered to shake his hand. He rejected it, saying that I am a ‘traitor.’ Whatever he recorded there, he sent it to AA [Anadolu news agency], and they wrote a report based on false information,” he said.

Underlining that he voiced no complaints about Turkey during the program, Bilici said he spoke about his former colleagues who are now in Turkish prisons.

“I tried to explain about press freedom and what a critical importance democracy has,” he added.

Bilici also told Turkish Minute that a police officer who was present at the event as security told him there was an ongoing investigation into Shakhbandarov over his financial and organizational links with the Diyanet Center of America (DCA), which receives major support from Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

In series of tweets after he was accused in social media by pro-Erdoğan figures, Bilici said he was not provided security by the CIA as claimed by the pro-government media but that the organizer of the event provided security for the program after being informed about the fanatic Erdoğan supporters expected to attend the event.

Also corresponding with Turkish Minute on Saturday via email, Dayton Council on World Affairs President Monica Schultz said she felt very sorry that Bilici had faced harassment in Dayton.

“His experience is so very important to all supporters of Democracy! And yet, I am sad to think of anyone trying to silence it, whatever their means,” she said.

Underlining that the same person had also exhibited threatening behavior towards her, Schultz said Shakhbandarov had told her prior to the event that she would never be able to visit Turkey because he would put her name on a list of people who support terrorists.

Schultz said the local police department got involved and that she was told by the police that a post the pro-Erdoğan supporter put on Facebook accusing Bilici of being a “traitor” was removed after the event.

Shakhbandarov shared above post on the event from his Facebook account on May 2.

In September of last year, pro-Erdoğan media outlets spread videos and photos of government-critical journalists Aydoğan Vatandaş, Adem Yavuz Arslan, Ekrem Dumanlı and Emre Uslu, who live in different cities in the US.

Following a report in The Wall Street Journal on March 24 revealing that retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, ousted national security advisor of the Trump administration, discussed in a meeting with top Turkish government officials last September the illegal removal from the United States of Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by Turkish authorities of masterminding a failed coup in Turkey last summer, and his extrajudicial return to Turkey.

The dates of surveillance of Turkish journalists occurred only days after Flynn’s meeting with Turkish officials.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon advisor, wrote in an article following the surveillance incidents that that the US government should come down hard on Turkey if the government was involved in the surveillance.

“U.S. law enforcement should certainly interdict and arrest any Turks or agents on their behalf who are involved in operations on U.S. soil. If they do not have diplomatic immunity, they should be tried and, if found guilty, imprisoned,” Rubin said.

He cited evidence that the Turkish regime has used Turkish journalists and civil society organizations as a cover for espionage activities.

Turkey stands out from the crowd by a distant margin by holding a record number of 235 journalists and media workers behind bars, breaking an all time world record. More than half of the journalists who are in prison around the world are now located in Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe (CoE) and a candidate member for the European Union (EU).

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 237 journalists are now in jails, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 22 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons.  An outstanding detention warrants remain for 100 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey. Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt. (SCF with May 7, 2017

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