Question raised on Turkish President Erdogan’s plan to monitor its citizens


Since the victory in the last elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as his party, both are continuously coming up with a series of moves to establish a totalitarian regime in Turkey. In the latest move, the Erdogan government has launched a crackdown on the members of an opponent organisation led by dissident and religious leader Fethullah Gulen. To establish its authoritarian control and weed out adversaries, Erdogan has begun cleansing Turkey out of supporters of the Gulen movement.

The Turkish government has begun to detain the supporters of Fethullah Gulen and the movement led by him from all the government institutions. According to Turkish media reports, Erdogan had directed law enforcement agencies to launch an all out raid on pro-Gulenist  government officials on 15th September. A total of 66 Turkish soldiers were arrested at once on charges of reflecting pro-Gulenist sentiments. Of the total, 18 are former soldiers who were suspended for supporting the ideas of Fethullah Gulen and participating in the July 2016 ‘coup’ attempt.

Separately, police have arrested 79 people for alleged links to Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) — an outfit believing in Fethullah Gulen’s ideas. Turkish agencies are also on a lookout for other members of FETO as well. Besides, a dozen teachers have been arrested in capital Ankara for their alleged association with FETO and using a mobile app ByLock for encrypted messaging.

In a nationwide drive to prosecute dissidents, Turkish agencies are searching for another 47 dissidents across 19 provinces of Turkey and a number of them have been detained for their alleged connections with FETO. Besides, Turkish agencies have also arrested around 132 soldiers, active as well as retired, in Istanbul over similar charges.

Erdogan’s party has been arguing that the Gulen movement, during its alliance with Erdogan’s party, efficiently penetrated into government institutions and occupied prominent positions. However, Erdogan began to eliminate Gulenists after lawyers associated with the Gulen movement tried to prosecute Erdogan on corruption charges in 2013 and tried to prosecute a couple of his associates. Religious leader Fethullah Gulen —the supremo of Gulen Islamist movement is currently staying in the US.

A week earlier, Turkish agencies also arrested sixty individuals including 48 lawyers for allegedly supporting Fethullah Gulen. Consequently, more than twenty civil liberties organisations and bar associations have issued an open letter addressed to Erdogan, condemning the arrests and demanding immediate release of lawyers. The list of organizations included Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, German Bar Association, and Law Society of England and Wales, besides others.

In another move to consolidate his authoritarian control over Turkey, Erdogan plans to establish a Presidential Directorate for Integrated Surveillance — an agency which would maintain a data bank and sensitive data of every citizen and monitor them, turning Turkey into a surveillance state. On 16 September, Interior Minister of Turkey Suleyman Soylu  stated that the government would establish the new Directorate that will maintain a database of all the drivers’ license and digital IDs of every individual.He also conveyed Turkey’s ambitious plans of launching the new digital ID, containing RFID chips. Turkey further plans to integrate other IDs with the database maintained by the Directorate as well, including healthcare cards, bank IDs and other cards related to public schemes.

At a time wherein digital IDs are facing a global setback and such projects are being pulled back by governments across the world, Turkey has sinister plans to store the hyper sensitive data of its citizens including the biometrics. Going on lines of China and North Korea, Turkey would probably become the third nation to maintain a master database including hyper sensitive data of its individuals and constantly surveil them,breaching their privacy.

In a similar move to turn Turkey into a ‘Police State’ and purge his opponents, Erdogan ordered to establish a new police unit Istanbul – a city that is being ruled by Erdogan’s opponent. A direct presidential order issued on 20 August provided for setting up of ‘Ready Reinforcement Force Directorate’ — a police unit that would directly report to the President. A similar unit has also been established in Ankara — another city where Erdogan faced defeat and is being ruled by his opponent.

The idea of Erdogan is to gain sweeping powers in administering cities that are being ruled by opposition parties and to create barriers in governance by his opponents. However, the decision of establishing the New police unit has led to intense pushback from the opposition parties. Former Prime Minister and leader of the Future Party Ahmet  Davutoglu took on Erdogan and criticised his move of directly controlling law and order in Istanbul. Similarly, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Sezgin Tanrikulu moved a motion in the Turkish parliament questioning the move.

“Why is there a need to establish a unit in the General Directorate of Security, apart from the supervision of the governorship, within the body of the General Directorate of Security and directly in contact with the President. Who will supervise a power that is not under the control of the governors, and who will respond to the wrong practices of that power.” Ahmet  Davutoglu statement published on en24news

The civil society and academicians have also begun to raise their voice opposing the dictatorial move of Erdogan, undermining the Turkish democracy. Prominent academician Mehmet Koksal argued that the new police unit shall be problematic as it would be directly controlled by the President and compared the new unit with Schutzstaffel  force created by Hitler in Nazi Germany. Further, Turkish Bar Association Vice President Huseyin Ozbek argued that such a force under direct control of one person shall further lead to unlawful actions.

“This is a very dangerous development. This is how the SS (Schutzstaffel) police force was formed during the era of Hitler in Germany,” Köksal said.

Erdogan is on a hurried campaign of consolidating institutional powers across Turkey and has been ruling the nation through unlawful Presidential orders and decrees. In a number of cases, he has also created super or shadow institutions to challenge the ones that are out of his control. Another objective behind creating such institutions is to establish them as alternatives to those under opposition’s hold. He has also made mass appointments across Turkish institutions and filled them with people pledging allegiance to Erdogan. Besides the vulnerabilities of becoming a totalitarian regime, such steps have led to misgovernance, clash of powers, and confusions in administration.

Such moves of eliminating dents and turning Turkey into a surveillance state is being opposed by the Turkish political institutions and the civil society. A number of organisations from the Western world have started to join voices against Erdogan’s dictatorial moves. However, nations across the world also need to stand up against Erdogan’s oppressive moves in order to ensure human rights for Turkish citizens and to provide space to dissidents.

Also, it is no surprise that Pakistanis and Kashmiri separatists working in Turkish media, instead of criticizing blatant human rights violations by Erdogan, have become his fanboys and fangirls – exposing their double standards.

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