How does Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan fight his political opponents, including those who have been working hard to expose the atrocities of the Islamic state terror group, ISIS? By throwing them into jail for allegedly "supporting terrorism."
Since the 2016 botched coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan has been waging a massive crackdown on his opponents and critics, including politicians, political activists, journalists and members of the Turkish security forces and army.
The latest victim of this crackdown is Eren Erdem, a former deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who is known for his activities to expose the crimes of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Erdem was recently detained on charges of "aiding a terrorist organization" and is also being investigated for "insulting the Turkish state." He faces a prison sentence of 9 to 22 years on charges of "knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization as a non-member", "revealing the identity of an anonymous witness" and "violating the confidentiality of the investigation."
The author of nine books, Erdem worked as a journalist before being elected as a CHP member of parliament for Istanbul in 2015. He appears to be the bravest MP who has exposed ISIS activities across Turkey during his tenure and has often urged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to stop these activities and bring the perpetrators to account.
Erdem meticulously cited evidence from criminal cases, indictments and investigations by state authorities as well as news reports in his statements and parliamentary motions. On December 10, 2015, for example, Erdem made a speech in Turkey's parliament about ISIS activities in Turkey. These included ISIS's transfer of the ingredients of sarin gas through Turkey to Syria "with which thousands of children were murdered in the Middle East". Referring to the investigation and indictment by the Adana office of a public prosecutor, he said:
"Some people in Turkey have contacted the members of the ISIS terrorist organization and transferred the raw material of sarin gas, which is a chemical weapon, to Syria. The prosecutor started an investigation on this. The suspects who carried out the transfer were arrested and jailed. Upon the order of the prosecutor, the telephones of all suspects were wiretapped, the details of which are in this indictment... But within a week, the case was closed, the suspects were released and allowed to leave Turkey to cross the border to Syria."
Because of the statements he made in parliament, Erdem became the target of a smear campaign, particularly after he spoke to the international press. In December 2015, for example, he told RT: "Chemical weapon materials were brought to Turkey and put together in ISIS camps in Syria, which was known as the Iraqi Al-Qaeda at that time."
Erdogan, condemning Erdem for the RT interview, said that Erdem "has sunk in the pit of treason" and called on the CHP to dismiss him: "Shame on his party, me and my nation for letting him stay in his party." A investigation into treason was then launched against Erdem.
Erdem then stated that after the publication of the interview, he received death threats over social media, with his home address posted by pro-government Twitter users presumably to enable an attack on his house:
"I just shared the contents of the indictment with the people... I provided them with a document... [The government] is carrying out a lynching campaign against me. Because they are disturbed by me. I have exposed their filths and exploitation of religion in my books... I have received more than a thousand death threats. My email address is filed with death threats... If something happens to me, the pro-government media and AKP deputies are responsible."
Undeterred by the pressure and threats, Erdem has continued exposing and speaking about the activities of jihadist terror groups in the region. During a speech at Turkey's parliament in June 2016, for instance, Erdem once again criticized the government for turning a blind eye to ISIS activities: "ISIS has sleeper cells in Turkey. These cell houses are monitored [by state authorities]... The information gained from technical surveillance on these cells has confirmed that ISIS is organized in Turkey."
The. primary suspect of ISIS's terror attack in Ankara, Erdem said, who goes by acronym I.B. [Ibrahim Bali] "sent 1,800 terrorists to ISIS, all of whom were monitored through technical surveillance but not a single police or military operation was carried out on them... Where are the police forces? I identified 10.000 addresses [of ISIS members] in these documents of investigations conducted by prosecutors and judges.... Why are these men not in jail?"
Erdem also commented on the Turkish language online magazine published by ISIS, Konstantiniyye:
"ISIS sends these magazines to bookstores and its cell houses. The government knows this. But no police or military operation has been carried out on anywhere including the printing house of this magazine."
Erdem then showed a photo of the "database" interface ISIS created of its injured and treated members and said that many ISIS terrorists received medical treatment in Turkey. He also called on the parliament to open a commission to investigate ISIS activities in Turkey, but the call was rejected by the votes of the ruling AKP party. A day later, at a press conference at Turkey's parliament, Erdem said:
"If the commission we proposed were established, we would crush all of the ISIS cells across in Turkey in a few months. There would be no cell left. Because we know the addresses of these cells. We learn them from the police... We also learn from the investigation by police that ISIS members get organized in Istanbul through a magazine called 'the Islamic World'. But there has been no police operation against them. This is not neglect. This is cooperation [with ISIS]."
Erdem also said that he received threats and curses on social media after he proposed establishing a commission for investigating ISIS. He added that he was provided with security guards by the governor as a precaution to death threats.
Eren Erdem at a June 2016 press conference. (Image source: Eren Erdem video screenshot)
In May 2018, an Islamist association demanded prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant against Erdem. He responded that he was "being exposed to yet another lynching campaign". He then received a ban on going abroad as he was about to leave Turkey for Germany with his family on May 21. He was stopped at the Istanbul airport by authorities and his passport was seized.
When Erdem's party, the CHP, failed to nominate him as MP candidate for June 24 elections, he lost his parliamentary seat and his immunity. On June 26, he was arrested in Istanbul.
The terror organization to which Erdem's indictment refers is the FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization), named after Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. It is an organization that Erdogan and other members of the Turkish government accuse of staging a 2016 attempted coup, and often use as an excuse to arrest its critics.
A lawsuit was filed against Erdem due to his works at newspaper Karşı, where Erdem was the editor-in-chief. The accusation that he is a "FETÖ supporter" is particularly baseless given that in 2016, he published a book entitled "Nurjuvazi" that criticized Gülen and his movement.
In the meantime, a former CHP deputy announced on July 3 that CHP MPs who wanted to visit Erdem in prison were not given permission by authorities. "This," he wrote on Twitter, "is isolation against Erdem."
Another investigation was recently opened against him that is looking into his criticism against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for allegedly violating Article 301 of the penal code, which prescribes prison terms for "denigration of Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions."
In an Orwellian nightmare, a former deputy and a journalist who has so courageously dedicated his career to exposing and condemning terrorist organizations, is now being accused of "aiding terrorists". The real terrorists he has condemned, however, remain free.
Erdem is paying the price for telling the truth in Turkey. He has risked his life to stop ISIS and help save lives. Now is the time for human rights activists and the media to defend him.
Uzay Bulut, a journalist from Turkey, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.