Turkish diplomats in Kyrgyzstan spied on critics, cabled secret files to Ankara

Source: Nordic Monitor

Judicial documents have confirmed that Turkish journalists, educators, academics and businessmen who were listed by Turkish diplomats in Bishkek had been included in a terrorism probe on fabricated charges by a Turkish prosecutor.

As seen in several cases, the documents revealed how the information collected by the embassy was later used in a criminal indictment of critics and their families on charges of terrorism.

According to a December 13, 2018 decision by prosecutor Birol Tufan, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a separate investigation (file no. 2018/224941) into 25 Turkish nationals who were listed in espionage files dispatched by Turkish diplomats in Kyrgyzstan without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

The investigation included Turkish nationals such as former correspondents of the Turkish Zaman daily, which was seized by government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as academics, teachers and doctors who had been living in the country and working at Kyrgyz institutions for decades. The list also included Erdoğan critics who have been forced to live in exile or who remain at large in Turkey to escape the regime’s persecution. According to the documents they were charged with “membership in a terrorist group” by Akıncı.

Zaman, which used to sell 1.2 million copies a day at its peak, was seized by the government in March 2016 on a complaint filed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated, pro-Erdoğan group that claimed the paper had defamed the jihadist group in articles and op-ed pieces. After the government takeover, the paper was turned into a government mouthpiece overnight and was shut down in July 2016, wiping out decades of work in the newspaper’s archives and taking down its website.

The Turkish Embassy in Bishkek is run by Ambassador Cengiz Kamil Fırat, who was handed a diplomatic note in 2019 by the Kyrgyz foreign ministry and asked not to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.

According to the reports Ambassador Fırat visited the village of Orok in the Sokuluk region, where the Kyrgyz and Ahiska Turks had a fight, on June 5, 2019. In the village, home to Kyrgyz, Ahıska Turks, Kurds and Tatars, tensions escalated into an altercation, and 32 people had been detained on the same day.

The documents once more confirmed that spying activities by Turkish diplomatic missions result in serious consequences in the Turkish judicial system.

Turkish diplomatic and consular missions around the world have collected information on Turkish nationals in line with a systematic spying campaign launched after a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, listed their names as if they were part of a terrorist organization and transmitted it to headquarters.

As previously disclosed by Nordic Monitor, the foreign ministry sent lists of profiled Turkish nationals in two CDs to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the national police and Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT on February 19, 2018 via an official document for further administrative or legal action, the punishment of their relatives back in Turkey and the seizure of their assets.

Public prosecutor Akıncı, who received the foreign ministry document on February 23, 2018, forwarded the classified CDs including information on 4,386 Erdoğan critics to the Organized Crimes Unit of the Ankara Police Department for further action. The police conveyed the results of its investigations to the public prosecutor.

According to judicial documents released by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on January 16, 2019, the foreign ministry compiled a long list of foreign entities that were owned and/or operated by people who were seen as close to the Hizmet/Gülen movement, a group critical of the Turkish government, in 92 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Moreover, Nordic Monitor revealed how MIT infiltrated refugee camps in Greece in order to spy on opponents who were forced to flee to Greece to escape an unprecedented crackdown in neighboring Turkey.

Judicial documents dated December 13, 2018 exposed how the spying activities of the Turkish Embassy in Bishkek triggered a criminal investigation in Turkey. (The names and addresses of the Turkish nationals have been redacted for security reasons.):

Turkish diplomatic missions continue systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil as confirmed by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in February, 2020. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad. “If you look at the definition of a diplomat, it is clear. … Intelligence gathering is the duty of diplomats,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish journalists on February 16, 2020 following the Munich Security Conference, adding, “Intelligence gathering and information collection are a fact.”

In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Turkish Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras also admitted to spying on 15 Turkish-Canadians. “Any embassy would focus on the threats targeting their countries. That’s what every embassy does,” he told The Globe and Mail.

It is clear that Turkish diplomatic missions violate the domestic laws of receiving states and the principles of international law by conducting unlawful information-gathering campaigns and sweeping intelligence operations. In the aftermath of the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, some Western countries launched investigations into the spying activities on Turks and Turkish organizations overseas by Turkish Foreign Ministry personnel, representatives from relevant authorities, imams and intelligence officers accredited as diplomats.