Luis Ayala, the Chilean secretary-general of the Socialist International, came to Turkey last week to express concern about the media campaign by pro-government papers against the main opposition, the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), and one of its MPs, Umut Oran, and show solidarity with them.
Oran, who is also a vice chairman for the Socialist International (SI), has been accused of exchanging messages over Twitter with the mysterious person or people behind a Twitter account and Emre Uslu, a writer of police origin, over an assassination attempt against Sümeyye Erdoğan, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s daughter, by three Turkish newspapers, Akşam, Star and Güneş, on Feb. 17. All the newspapers belong to the same businessman, Ethem Sancak, who is close to Erdoğan and has also won a number of lucrative government tenders.
The Twitter user “@fuatavni” emerged right after the corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, after which Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government denounced their former ally, Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist ideologue living in the United States, accusing him of being behind a plot to use the probes to overthrow the government.
Since then, “fuatavni,” assumed to be an information network of mostly Gülenist sympathizers within government agencies (Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu call them the “parallel state”), has been broadcasting over Twitter about government affairs, including judicial and police operations – mostly against persons and institutions close to Gülen.
The media campaign against Oran suggested that the social democratic CHP, also known as a bastion of secularism, was under manipulation by the Islamist ideologue Gülen and involved in criminal activities such as plotting to assassinate the president’s daughter.
“I think I was targeted because of my international contacts, especially within the SI,” Oran says. “I believe because many people in the world have been asking me what is happening in Turkey in controversial court cases like Ergenekon and ‘Balyoz’ [Sledgehammer], the Gezi protests and the corruption probes made government circles uncomfortable.”
Because of the past record of such publications, very few took it seriously; the messages seemed obviously fake and aimed at defaming Oran. He and his party demanded prosecutors start a probe, but the request went unanswered for weeks. Oran asked Twitter to provide a copy of all his communications (73 pages) showing no messages with either “fuatavni” or Uslu. But when a probe was opened against Oran regarding the papers’ claims with no evidence other than the alleged messages, right after President Erdoğan said they should be investigated, things got more serious.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the CHP, said in a live TV show that he suspected the government could be preparing to close his party as the country heads to parliamentary elections on June 7.
Countering Kılıçdaroğlu’s accusation, PM Davutoğlu submitted a proposal to parliament making the closure of political parties more difficult.
A week after Kılıçdaroğlu’s comments, Ayala was in Ankara to talk to the Turkish administration and show solidarity with the CHP. (He visited Kılıçdaroğlu in CHPheadquarters in Ankara and participated in CHP activities in Istanbul over the weekend.)
Ayala said during a meeting with a group of journalists in Istanbul on March 14 that his appointment with PM Davutoğlu was canceled due to a funeral, adding that he failed to get an appointment with Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bülent Arınç and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and could meet only with Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek.
“I expressed to him that the SI sees such attacks as a grave infringement on a working democracy, especially when we have some 90 days until the elections,” Ayala said. “Such attacks have no place in a democratic system and there is a shared responsibility among government, political parties, courts and the press. I am surprised that no other political actors and democratic institutions spoke up on the issue.”
Ayala said he would write a letter to President Erdoğan as soon as he returns “on this serious issue,” expressing concern and asking all members of the SI to watch what is happening in Turkey throughout the elections.
“I myself will be in Turkey with a delegation to observe the elections,” Ayala said. “We do not want this issue to overshadow free and fair elections in Turkey.”