Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has given a warning that his government will block social media networks YouTube and Facebook, which feature in the growing corruption scandal. “If necessary” he would ban them, suggesting that “he would not sacrifice the Turkish people” to the two websites. Both platforms were used to spread the leaks of alleged phone calls between Erdoğan and his son in which they discuss how to hide vast sums of money. The Prime Minister dismisses those phone calls as being a fake montage by his rivals, which he deems ‘vile’ and ‘immoral’. After the local elections on 30th of March, he warned, new steps will therefore be taken to tighten the government’s grip over the internet.
Not even two weeks ago, president Gül signed a controversial bill into law that would already increase the control of the government over the internet. In the event of a “cyber attack”, the head of the Telecommunications Board (TİB) now has the authority to block and ban websites on his own accord. This bill was widely condemned by international actors and Turkish people alike, fuelling protests in the bigger Turkish cities.
Turkish politics have been caught up in a corruption scandal from mid-December onwards. Prominent ministers are accused of meddling with trade deals, accepting bribes, and interfering with media and judiciary in order to keep themselves or their relatives out of trouble. The latest leaked phone calls incriminate Erdoğan who supposedly discusses with his son how to hide money. Erdoğan argues that the phone calls are fake and have never taken place.
According to Erdoğan, loyalists of Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim leader based in the US, are meddling in the judiciary and police to engineer a high-level corruption investigation targeting the government since mid-December. Last week it became known that thousands of people, including Erdoğan, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, and a wide range of journalists, academics, business leaders and NGO representatives, have been wiretapped for years by the police as part of different probes. The mass eavesdropping started after a probe launched by a specially authorized prosecutor in 2011 targeting five people, including Erdoğan. The prime minister, after finding out, accused both prosecutors and police of spying for another country. The prosecutors, meanwhile, said the news articles about mass wiretapping are completely fabricated and do not reflect truth. “Not a single name listed as having been wiretapped in the reports are included in my investigation file,” one of the prosecutors said.
Whether or not the wiretapping took place, both the opposition and the ruling party use it to accuse their rivals. Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) take on Gülen with whom he is locked in a bitter feud. According to AKP, Gülen is behind the corruption investigations as his ‘movement’ has infiltrated senior positions in the police and judiciary. As a response, AKP issued a bill that has now been passed in parliament which aims at closing down thousands of private schools, many of which are run by Gülen. The supposed ‘parallel state’ that Gülen has created according to Erdoğan is now also being discussed by Turkey’s top security board. They identified the Gülen movement as a potential threat to the national security.
The opposition, on the other hand, uses the accusations to demand Erdoğan’s resignation. Main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) called on the government to immediately resign, adding that it had completely lost its legitimacy. “It is unacceptable that someone who is in the middle of these dirty relations leads Turkey from now on. This government has lost all legitimacy after this hour,” said CHP spokesman Haluk Koç on the 24th of February. He continued: “We understand now far better those extraordinary efforts of making legal arrangements to render the graft claims unquestionable. [They] want to cover up the dirt. The prime minister wants to prevent them from getting to him.”
Judiciary law and intelligence bill
In the meantime, two bills have gone round that will increase the control of the government on both the judiciary and the intelligence units. The bill on the judiciary has been signed into law last week. The Minister of Justice now has greater control over the independent Supreme board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) responsible for appointing and overseeing the members of the judiciary. The other bill, which will be voted on in parliament after the local elections, aims to expand the powers of Turkey’s spy agency. The agency would be turned into an intelligence coordination body that will work directly under the prime minister. Both the new judiciary law and the intelligence bill caused outrage from the opposition, claiming that Turkey is becoming less democratic by the minute.
By Merel Berkelmans
Sources: Al Jazeera, Good morning Turkey I, Good morning Turkey II, Good morning Turkey III, Hurriyet Daily I, Reuters, Hurriyet Daily II, Today’s Zaman
This is the translated YouTube video that allegedly features Erdogan and his son.