In the audio clip, uploaded by onto YouTube by Twitter user “Başçalan” (Prime Thief), Interior Minister Ala is allegedly heard instructing İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu to immediately detain Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu for publishing what Ala says are secret state documents.
“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 Ala, who appeared stunned and bewildered by the revelations in the documents.
In late December of last year, Baransu’s website was blocked by the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) for publicizing photos and sound recordings concerning a major investigation of alleged bribery linked to public tenders and money laundering. Baransu called TİB’s decision an “unlawful action.”
The government’s attempts to censor the media have been a highly debated issue in Turkey in the last few years, and Baransu is merely the latest victim.
Access to the website, yenidonem.com, was blocked in Turkey by TİB as of Dec. 20, 2013, because the journalist had published content on the ongoing graft probe in which 52 people, including bureaucrats, well-known businessmen and the sons of three ministers, were detained on Dec. 17.
During the phone conversation, Ala is heard telling the İstanbul governor that he should immediately talk to the chief public prosecutor to secure a court order to detain the journalist.
“Detain him soon. If the prosecutor fails to bring in the journalist, detain the prosecutor too,” Ala is allegedly heard to say.
In another audio recording leaked on the same day, Ala is heard instructing a high-ranking official at TİB to block Baransu’s website. When Tayfun Acarer, who holds a key post at the institution, voices his discomfort over the lack of any court order to block the website, Ala is 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 after the latter expressed worries about the implications of blocking a website without a court ruling, two months before the latest Internet law was enacted in Parliament.
Despite Ala’s attempts to reassure Acarer with the planned legal change that would allow TİB to block such websites, Acarer continues to express his concerns about the absence of a court order, saying, “Baransu announced that he would file a lawsuit over TİB’s unlawful actions.” Ala, who is seemingly annoyed with Acarer’s remarks, tells him not to worry, adding: “The court order is there. Baransu is publicizing secret documents. Take it easy. The administration has the authority to block such revelations. Don’t hesitate in carrying out the decision to block it. He [Baransu] cannot publicize such confidential documents. Don’t worry. The justice minister [Bekir Bozdağ] will also start the process for a law preventing the publication of such documents.”
Soon after this phone conversation, which allegedly foreshadowed a new law granting TİB more extensive powers, Parliament passed a law in early February allowing TİB broad control over the Internet. Under the new law, TİB is granted the right to block websites, Internet pages, social media posts and chats without a court order in less than four hours if there is believed to be a violation of privacy or slander.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spokesperson Haluk Koç accused Ala of restructuring the ministry to the government’s liking by means of unlawful orders, saying: “The minister aims to change the definition of unlawful acts … to benefit his own interests. They are driven to make specific legislation to punish certain circles that disagree with them. In these recordings, they confess the process of creating laws on the National Intelligence Organization [MİT] and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK]. Before these laws, they enacted specific laws concerning individuals, people and institutions. They prepared laws that were against universal norms and principles in order to use them as a means of evading accusations against them, as they had violated and broken the law.”
CHP deputy Gürsel Tekin also slammed Interior Minister Ala for his unlawful instructions to the TİB chairman, saying: “When I pointed out that Turkey is experiencing an extraordinary period due to the government’s unlawful moves and activities, some circles questioned my remarks. Now, as the recordings are revealed day by day, they understand what I meant. Interior Minister Ala is a man from the days of a state of emergency. He hasn’t obeyed a law in his life. Taking charge during such extraordinary periods, when the rule of law is totally eradicated, is compatible with Ala’s aims.”
Erdoğan’s advisor looks for paper shredder and safe box
In further voice recordings leaked over the Internet on Wednesday, a voice thought to be that of Şenol Kazancı, a Prime Ministry’s Office official responsible for public lands and properties, calls Kasım Bostan, head of the financial affairs department of the Prime Ministry, to procure a shredder and safe box to store money.
In the alleged phone conversation, which is thought to have taken place right after the Dec. 17, 2013 operation, Kazancı instructs Bostan to obtain a shredder to destroy some secret documents and a safe box to secure an unspecified amount of money. In response, Bostan says he already has a shredder and safe box in his office. In addition, Kazancı states that the safe box must be “very big.” Afterwards Bostan is heard telling Kazancı that he has destroyed all the documents mentioned in the previous conversation and stored the money that he had received.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Özcan Yeniçeri held a press conference in Parliament in the wake of the newly revealed voice recordings in which Minister Ala allegedly instructed TİB Chairman Acarer to block access to Baransu’s website, accusing Ala of acting like a “bandit” instead of a statesman.
Yeniçeri expressed amazement at what Ala had told Acarer in the phone conversation, adding: “The minister apparently behaves like a bandit. As the audio recordings have demonstrated, the principles of the separation of powers, freedom of expression and democratic rights have totally collapsed in Turkey.”