Land of unlawful practices: New recordings show abuses of power

Leaked audio recordings uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous user at different times this week, allegedly featuring the voice of Interior Minister Efkan Ala, suggest that the minister does not have any respect for the rule of law and considers the government, of which he is a member, strong enough to resort to arbitrary and unlawful practices, with no concern for being held accountable for those deeds.

In one of the recordings, posted online on Wednesday, Ala allegedly told the governor of İstanbul province not to allow police to carry out a search at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s house in İstanbul’s Kısıklı neighborhood. If the police insist on going into the prime minister’s house for a search, a voice purportedly of Ala is heard telling Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, he should remove all those officers from their duty and the government would immediately pass a law to allow the governor to avoid a legal case due to the unlawful removals. The veracity of the recording has not been confirmed.

According to news sources, the phone conversation between Ala and Mutlu took place on Dec. 18, 2013 — one day after the major corruption operation broke. Police searched the houses of the sons of three former Cabinet ministers on Dec. 17 and found large sums of money stashed in those houses. The three sons as well as several businessmen and bureaucrats were detained, and later arrested, on accusations of corruption and bribery. The suspects were recently released pending trial. An earlier voice recording suggested that the prime minister had large sums of money — as much as $1 billion, according to rumors — in his houses, including the one in Kısıklı, and a voice allegedly belonging to Prime Minister Erdoğan was heard ordering his son Bilal to immediately dispose of that money.

The news sources also allege that Ala ordered Mutlu to prevent a police operation into the prime minister’s house before all the money hidden in his Kısıklı home was “zeroed.”

The recording has led to comments that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government does not respect the rule of law, but instead passes laws to protect its “men” who are involved in unlawful practices.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Atilla Kart, commenting on the recording, said the audio has come to reveal that the AK Party government knows no boundaries in unlawful practices. “This is not surprising for us. The AK Party has created many Efkan Alas who believe that the interests of the AK Party are superior to the law and justice. It has created many Efkan Alas who work to protect the interests of the AK Party rather than the interests of the people,” he told Today’s Zaman.

In another voice recording, also posted on YouTube on Wednesday, Ala allegedly spoke to İstanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok about the reassignments of dozens of police officers who participated in the major corruption operation of Dec. 17 of last year. A voice purportedly of Altınok told the interior minister that he had “fulfilled all the duties assigned to him” and that the police officials who joined the graft operation had been “sent into exile.” “About the two men [police officials] mentioned in the conversations of the esteemed prime minister, I set them apart. I sent one of them to one corner [of the country] and the other to another corner. I sent them to places far away from their homes,” Altınok allegedly said. In response, Ala reportedly told the İstanbul police chief to no longer allow the two police officials to stay in lojmans, compounds designated for members of the police force. Altınok allegedly agreed.

Since the launch of the corruption operation in mid-December of last year, some 7,000 police officers, including hundreds of police chiefs, across Turkey have been reassigned from their posts. A majority of them have been demoted to less significant positions within the country’s police departments. Many say the sweeping changes and purge within the police force reflect a mood of panic in the government, which is trying to portray the graft probe as a plot to undermine it ahead of critical local polls.

Wednesday’s recordings followed an earlier leaked audio in which Ala — who served as the Prime Ministry undersecretary then — allegedly told İstanbul Governor Mutlu to order a raid on the house of journalist Mehmet Baransu and arrest him for publishing state documents related to the corruption case. “Detain him immediately. He is committing a crime and nothing has been done to him. As long as he continues to publish the documents, it is impossible to talk about the existence of a state,” said a voice allegedly belonging to Ala, who appeared stunned and bewildered by the revelations in the documents. “Detain him soon. If the prosecutor fails to bring in the journalist, detain the prosecutor, too,” Ala was also allegedly heard saying.

In yet another audio recording, Ala was heard instructing a high-ranking official at the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) to block Baransu’s website. When Tayfun Acarer, who holds a key post at the institution, voiced his discomfort over the lack of any court order to block the website, Ala was heard telling him to not worry about it. “We can even pass new legislation to make it [blocking a website without a court order] legal,” said Ala, trying to calm the TİB official down, two months before the latest Internet law was enacted in Parliament.

Some commentators have said that Turkey is no longer a country governed by the rule of law, but is instead ruled by the law of the jungle.

According to retired military judge Ümit Kardaş, it is a crime to order public servants or state officials to resort to unlawful practices. “To detain a man without a court order, break down his door and raid his house reminds us of the law of the jungle. They spell a disaster for the rule of law. Whoever gives such orders and whoever fulfills those orders is committing a crime,” he stated.

Kardaş said that orders which are in violation of the Constitution and universal laws should not be fulfilled, even if they come from top state authorities.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Oktay Öztürk supports the view that some recent practices of the AK Party government are reminiscent of the law of the jungle. “Look at the things ministers are talking about [in the voice recordings]. They clearly show how much we have become distanced from the rule of law,” he stated. Ala is in charge of the Interior Ministry and is responsible for peace and social order, Öztürk said, but he forces state officials to commit crimes. “His revelations have revealed the source of inspiration for the laws the government has passed since Dec. 17 [2013]. The government has restructured courts in a manner to prevent them from trying AK Party members. And they have passed several laws to this end,” Öztürk noted.

Baransu, while commenting on the content of the voice recordings, said Turkey is “surrounded by bandits. … We see that bandits can become a Prime Ministry undersecretary or a minister in Turkey,” he said. According to the journalist, Turkey has become a “banana republic.”

“When my website was shut down, I was vocal in my criticism. I wrote to the president about the unlawful closure of my website. And we can all see now that my website really was shut down unlawfully,” Baransu stated.

In late December of last year, Baransu’s website was blocked by TİB for publicizing photos and sound recordings concerning a major investigation of alleged bribery linked to public tenders and money laundering.

The journalist also said he called both Acarer and Mutlu to discuss the recordings, but neither responded to his calls. “I will file a lawsuit,” he added.

Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, who writes columns for the news website T24, wrote on Thursday that Turkey has turned into a “state that no longer respects laws. … [According to the voice recordings] the undersecretary of the Prime Ministry is able to decide that a journalist has committed a crime and can order a governor to detain him. When the governor hesitates [about fulfilling the undersecretary’s order], he grows furious and tells the governor to ‘break down his door’ and ‘detain the prosecutor if he resists, too.’ We are living in such a state. The state no longer respects the law. How can human rights and freedom exist in such a state?” the journalist asked.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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