Harvard academic from Turkey says threatened, framed after criticising Abdullah Gül

A Turkish academic researcher who gave Abdullah Gül a hard time during a speech he gave at Harvard University this summer back when he was president has said he has received dozens of threats and was also accused of being a member of a terrorist organization in Turkey in an anonymous e-mail sent to his colleagues.

Emrah Altındiş, who was a research fellow in microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School, challenged Gül after he finished giving a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on May 30.

Altındiş had asked Gül how he could sleep at night after thousands of people had suffered due to a harsh police crackdown on the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013 and how the then-president was not ashamed of delivering lessons on democracy.

In remarks published on Monday by the Hürriyet daily, the fellow said that colleagues in his department at Harvard received a 19-page anonymous letter in July claiming that Altındiş was a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). The letter also said he is a security threat to everyone at the department as well as their families.

“It was clear from the many details it gave about the organization that it was written by people who know about the sensitivity of an average American about terrorism,” said Altındiş.

According to Altındiş, an examination of the e-mail showed that it was sent from an IP address in Ankara, although the identity of the sender is not known. He also said he has never had any link with the DHKP/C, dismissing the accusations in the e-mail as “absurd claims seeking vengeance” for his question to Gül.

“Law and politics were always intertwined in Turkey, but during the term of the AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party], law turned into a sharp sword used against opponents,” he said.

“They can depict me as being linked to an illegal organization that I have never had and will never have any relationship with and prosecute me. Whether they will risk [causing] such a scandal, we will see.”

Altındiş also said his colleagues at Harvard, except for a few who he said could not understand the motive behind the e-mail, showed their support for him in the face of “this attack.”

He has since begun to work at Joslin Diabetes Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

He said he has received about a hundred messages full of threats or insults. “Some contain racist rants like ‘Armenian spawn,’ ‘Greek spawn,’ or ‘Jewish spawn,’ phrases like ‘You cannot be a Turk’ or ‘traitor.’ Some contain insults saying I humiliated my country,” Altındiş said of the messages, adding that others contained death threats like “We will find you,” or “We’ll not let you live.”

“We don’t know yet what part of this death threat campaign is organized by the state and what part belongs to private individuals, therefore we cannot determine the seriousness of the risk,” Altındiş said. “But there is a very deep-rooted tradition of a deep state in Turkey. And, therefore, one thinks of every possibility.”


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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