Turkey’s state-run news agency harasses Turkish rights activist in the US over Times Square billboard

Three employees of Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) harassed the president of US-based advocacy organization Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) on Sunday after the organization paid for a billboard in New York City’s Times Square that reads “STOP ERDOGAN.”

In a video filmed by AST’s president Murat Kaval, the AA team, made up of a correspondent, a cameraman and a photographer, are seen in the front yard of Kaval’s New Jersey home threateningly asking questions about the billboard.

The AA correspondent, who was later identified as Cahit Oktay, is seen in the video asking Kaval: “Why did you put up that billboard? Where’d you get the money? Can you tell us about Silenced Turkey?”

In response Kaval asks the correspondent’s name, but Oktay refuses to answer, saying, “Our name is AA, and we are the ones asking the questions.”

Oktay also shares details about Kaval’s house and discloses his address.

The Times Square billboard showcased human rights violations in Turkey and caused a stir there for the “STOP ERDOGAN” slogan. The sign was branded by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik as the work of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Following the reaction from the AKP, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office said it had launched an investigation into the people responsible for putting up the billboard in New York City.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Following the Times Square display, billboards that read “LOVE ERDOĞAN” were erected in municipalities run by Turkey’s ruling AKP in support of President Erdoğan, Turkish Minute reported.

AA correspondents have harassed Turkish dissidents and exiled journalists living in the in the US several times in the past. Academic and columnist Emre Uslu, journalists Adem Yavuz Arslan and Aydoğan Vatandaş are among the people who have been targeted by AA.

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