Twitter on Thursday suspended the account of the Turkish-American National Steering Committee (TASC), a diaspora organization known for its close ties to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for targeting Turkish NBA player and outspoken Erdoğan critic Enes Kanter.
According to a report by Nicholas Morgan for the Ahval news website, TASC’s Twitter account was suspended for allegedly coordinating a campaign of harassment against Kanter.
“Erdogan’s propaganda machine in the U.S @ourtasc and a few of their members have been suspended on Twitter for trying to promote lies and slander,” Kanter’s manager Hank Fetic tweeted. “Must hurt when you cannot spew your lies in a free society.”
— Hank Fetic (@hadisfetic) December 24, 2020
While Kanter is regularly targeted on Twitter by pro-Erdoğan users for his opposition to the Turkish government, the suspension followed a series of seemingly coordinated tweets by pro-TASC accounts on the platform. Several of them repeated hashtags and language used in a recent video posted by TASC TV, the organization’s online channel, that called Kanter a terrorist and tied him to a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Kanter is an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian policies and human rights record. Turkish prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison sentence for his alleged membership in the Gülen movement, a religious group inspired by US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey had revoked Kanter’s passport in 2017 and attempted to have him deported from Romania on May 20, 2017 during one of his international trips. His passport was briefly seized by the Romanian police upon a request from the Turkish government. The NBA said it had worked with the State Department to ensure Kanter’s release in Romania.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the 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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, he called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.
Suspended along with TASC was the account of its vice chairman İsrafil Demir. TASC responded angrily to the suspension and to Fetic on Twitter, threatening legal action.
“Your attack may suspend our organization account but we will take legal action against your lies and slander,” an account belonging to TASC wrote in response to Fetic’s initial tweet. “@ourtasc proved @EnesKanter is a terrorist lover and now it is confirmed.”
TASC describes itself as a Turkish-American advocacy and educational organization that only looks to promote the community’s voice in the US. The group, however, is known to have direct links to the Turkish government and has disseminated pro-government messages in its work.
One of the co-chairs of the organization, Halil Mutlu, is a cousin of Erdoğan and is known for organizing pro-Erdoğan demonstrations in the US. He is a licensed physician in the US and was previously head of the Turken Foundation, another group with close ties to the Turkish government.
TASC co-chair Halil Mutlu is seen at a pro-Erdogan demonstration in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., in May 2017 that turned violent after Erdoğan’s bodyguards and some of his supporters attacked anti-Erdoğan protestors. Next to Mutlu is Sinan Narin, a demonstrator who was later convicted by a US court for attacking anti-Erdoğan protestors.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visits Sinan Narin in prison.
The second co-chair of TASC is Günay Evinch, a Washington, D.C., based attorney who provides legal services to the Turkish Embassy with his partner David Saltzman. His firm Saltzman & Evinch was accused in the past of spying on the Turkish government’s foes in the US and was compelled to register as foreign agents with the Justice Department over the summer.