Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency harasses exiled journalist Vatandaş

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) has harassed yet another Turkish journalist who has been forced to live abroad, contributing to the intensified campaign of refugee espionage conducted by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against alleged members of the Gülen movement overseas.

The harassment of prominent Turkish journalist Aydoğan Vatandaş, the founding editor-in-chief of US-based online media outlet Politurco, by AA has also renewed the fear that the Turkish government has accelerated its intimidation tactics and refugee espionage in the US. It is well known that AA has closely collaborated with Turkey’s notorious National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) in its so-called news gathering.

Politurco is a new and rapidly growing online platform focused primarily on Turkish politics, the Middle East and the Muslim world. After working at a number of critical media outlets in Turkey, Vatandaş left for New York and wrote for the widely esteemed English language daily Today’s Zaman, which was first seized then closed by the Erdoğan regime in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Foreign countries’ intelligence activities targeting dissidents in exile is known as “refugee espionage.” Refugee espionage makes people fear not only for their own safety but also that of relatives in their former home countries. This may also undermine the democratic process and lead to a situation where people who have sought asylum in another country may no longer feel able to enjoy their constitutional rights and freedoms. Such dissidents may also be subject to monitoring by foreign intelligence services.

AA reported on Saturday that it spotted exiled critical journalist Vatandaş in the US state of New Jersey. “He was first spotted at the Ant Bookstore & Cafe in Clifton, which is one of the main gathering spots of FETÖ members. He later visited Cafe 46, managed by FETÖ sympathizers, in Hackensack,” said the report.

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 244 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 184 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a 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.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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