Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen spies over Erdoğan opponents in Denmark

An adviser at the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen has confirmed that it collected information on alleged supporters of the Gülen movement, a faith-based social movement critical against Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, based in Denmark. Four men and fourteen schools in Denmark have been reported as being connected to the Gülen movement in a document sent to Turkey last autumn, thelocal.dk reported basing on the coverage of Danish newspaper Kristeligt-Dagblad.

Turkey’s embassy in Copenhagen has not previously given any official response to the document, according to Kristeligt Dagblad, which has since gained access to the repor.

According to the report, Adnan Bülent Baloglu, religious adviser at the Turkish Embassy in Denmark, defended in an interview with newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad the information in the document, which shows that the embassy collected information on 14 schools and four individuals in Denmark thought to be connected to the Gülen movement. No specific schools or names were given by Baloglu in the interview.

“This gathering of information is the reflex by a state to a terrible coup attempt in which several people were killed. If these people are running freely amongst us, we need to know about it,” Baloglu told Kristeligt Dagblad.

The official’s role as religious advisor at the Turkish embassy encompasses responsibility for Turkish religious matters in Denmark, news agency Ritzau reports. One Danish school, which is one of 14 previously linked to the movement on Facebook last year, said that it would consider legal action against Baloglu.

Phønix school in Horsens – an extra-curricular school for young adults known in Denmark as an efterskole – also denied any connection to the Gülen movement. “This is certainly an issue that I personally believe we should follow up on… I think action should be taken against people that have confirmed we are on a list,” the school’s head Harun Güler told DR.

Baloglu said that he saw nothing wrong with the collection of information by the Turkish authorities. “Have any of these people come to any harm after the collection of information?” he told Kristeligt Dagblad. He added that the information was collected by the Turkish embassy and not by the imams themselves.

German security services have previously reported that at least 13 Turkish imams in Germany have provided information about Germany-based Turks to state authorities in Turkey, reports Ritzau.

Last month, Denmark’s government sought clarification from Ankara after several high-profile Turkish-Danes said that they feared being denounced to Turkish authorities as national traitors and terrorists.

Prior to that, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen requested that his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim postpone a planned visit after Turkish government representatives were barred from holding referendum campaign meetings in Germany and the Netherlands, to the fury of Erdogan and his government.

Swiss police arrested a Basel-based traffic police on Friday on suspicion of spying for Turkish officials, reported by Basler Zeitung newspaper on Friday. According to the report, the arrested officer was passing on relevant information gathered during interviews to the Turkish government. Report suggests that the officer had been accessing websites supportive of the President Erdoğan.

The 37-year-old police officer, identified with initials Y.S. by local media, extracted personal data of a Turkish expat in the Swiss city of Basler from the police database. The Basler resident of Turkish descent is a strong opponent of Erdoğan and he had earlier avoided to disclose his address and other related data during a Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) meeting.

UETD is a partisan organization for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Europe. Y.S., also an UETD member, forwarded all the data he illegally obtained from the police database to the UETD office in Zurich, which they then transmitted to a Turkish consulate, the local newspaper said quoting anonymous sources from within UETD.

It is not the first time that UETD members are involved in pressure against Erdoğan critics abroad. “You are going to be arrested, but your wife will be arrested too,” UETD Chairman Özer Eken told a Turkish expat in Sweden before asking him to spy on critics of the Turkish government in the Baltic country. According to a tape recording the Stockholm-based Radio Sweden obtained, Eken tries to force an alleged supporter of the Gülen movement into providing information on his comrades.

Tuba Sarıaltın, former deputy head of UETD’s women’s branches in Germany’s Bavaria region, who also works voluntarily for a refugee foundation, has been proven to be collecting intelligence about Turkish families seeking asylum in Germany in order to report them to Turkish authorities, according to her Twitter posts.

Turkey had found itself in a diplomatic tug-of-war with European countries over allegations of political espionage against Turkish citizens, opponents of President Erdoğan, living in Europe before the constitutional referendum at home.

In February, the German police raided apartments of 4 Turkish imams in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate over charges of spying for the Turkish government. Also, the Swiss prosecutors started an investigation after they said they had concrete indications over political espionage. It came a day after warning from Swiss foreign minister to his Turkish counterpart that the Swiss authorities would probe any illegal intelligence activities in their country.

The Swiss investigation follows alleged political intelligence gathering in which participants at events at the University of Zurich in late 2016 and early 2017 were filmed or photographed. The office of Swiss attorney general said in a written statement that it “has been made aware of concrete suspicion that political espionage has likely been conducted involving the Turkish community in Switzerland.” The Turkish foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Ankara to convey Turkey’s dismay over an anti-Erdoğan protest in Bern.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the coup “a great gift of God” and pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Gülen strongly denied any involvement in the coup and asked for an international inquiry for which Turkish government did not respond. Turkish government has so far failed to present any direct evidence linking the movement to the coup other than testimonials that were apparently taken under severe torture and beatings.

April 29, 2017

 

 

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