A Turkish man in the Netherlands called the the Turkish Consulate General in Rotterdam's hotline to inform on his neighbor, a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and to claim a reward offered by the Turkish government for information leading to his apprehension.
According to confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, a 35-year-old man named Murat Aktaş, a Turkish citizen who resides in Rotterdam, phoned the consulate in the same city to inform officials of the location of a 78-year-old man who is wanted by Turkey on fabricated charges of terrorism.
The victim, identified as Necdet Başaran, is affiliated with the Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues, from pervasive corruption in the administration to Turkey's aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups. Like many prominent dissidents, human rights defenders and journalists, Başaran has also been in the crosshairs of the Erdoğan government, which offered a reward for information that leads to his capture.
According to the call transcript, detailed on October 6, 2022 by Ezgican Tekçorap, a Consulate Call Center specialist at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Aktaş told her that Başaran happens to be his neighbor in Rotterdam and admitted he had followed him.
"Our citizen shared information he had collected [on Başaran], saying he wanted to reach out [to the consulate] to [help] turn his neighbor over to Turkey and support the motherland, and that he heard about [reward] money that can be paid in exchange for information," Tekçorap wrote in her call report.
The cc on the email sent by Tekçorap, marked number 06557963, showed that the call report was shared with Mehmet Özgür Çakar, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry's Security and Research Directorate (otherwise known as the intelligence section, or Araştırma ve Güvenlik İşleri Genel Müdürlüğü in Turkish), a secretive spy section of the ministry, and other senior diplomats such as Yavuz Kül, head of the foreign ministry's directorate general for consular affairs; Erdinç Evirgen, deputy head of the same directorate; and Edibe Sinem Atay, the former head of the department.
A copy was also sent to the Security General Directorate's (Emniyet) intelligence and counterterrorism departments. The paper trail indicates that the information from the foreign ministry paved the way for creating a new record on Başaran, who already was under the surveillance of Turkish intelligence.
A police background report filed about Başaran on December 19, 2022 made reference to an intelligence report prepared by the Emniyet's intelligence department on May 17, 2018, which indicated that Başaran had been identified and located in the Netherlands. In other words, he had been surveilled long before the informant called in on the consular hotline.
The case is yet another example of how rewards offered by the Turkish government for information on critics and opponents abroad have enticed an array of informants in diaspora communities to spy on them and report to Ankara.
Created in October 2015 in an effort to emulate the FBI's Most Wanted List, Turkey's list in the beginning included 101 names, then the number jumped to 676 in two months' time. As of January 2021 there were 1,300 suspects on the list divided into five color-coded categories, with red designating the most wanted, followed by blue, green, orange and grey. Başaran is listed in the blue category.
There is no satisfactory official explanation as to which color corresponds to what. The Turkish police also announced a cash reward for anybody who provides information that leads to the capture of a suspect. As of 2019, the reward ranged between half a million and 10 million Turkish lira depending on category.
The government added many members of the the Gülen movement to the list as part of an intimidation campaign to stifle dissent and suppress the opposition. The movement, mainly active in education, interfaith dialogue and outreach activities, has never been associated with any sort of violence since it was first launched by Fethullah Gülen, now a US resident and a fierce critic of the Erdoğan regime, in the 1960s.
According to regulations, the rewards are increased each year in line with official rates announced by the tax authority under the revaluation process (yeniden değerleme), which determines the value of assets adjusted for inflation. The rate of revaluation for the year 2020 was 9.11 percent, and it increased to 36.20 percent in 2021 and 122.93 percent in 2022. As a result the highest cash reward amounts to over 33 million Turkish lira, or roughly $1.8 million at the current rate of exchange. The reward is paid by the Interior Ministry, and the identity of the informant is kept secret. The informant does not need to be a Turkish national.
Hundreds of opponents of the Erdoğan government have landed on these lists in recent years, with people sought on "terrorism" charges amid blatant abuse of the criminal justice system to punish dissidents in politically motivated, sham cases that lack the evidence to warrant serious accusations.
Turkey has also escalated transnational repression to suppress criticism abroad and established a spy and informant network to harass opponents and collect information about them in violation of the host countries' laws.
Turkey's informant network in diaspora communities, especially in Europe, has expanded greatly since 2014, when Erdoğan found himself incriminated in massive corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013. The corruption case files exposed how Erdoğan and his accomplices enriched themselves through kickbacks, bribery and abuse of power as well as money laundering schemes for the Iranian regime. When evidence in the form of wiretaps, banking records and video and photo surveillance was revealed, four ministers had to resign from the Erdoğan cabinet.
The Turkish president accused his opponents, mainly members of the Gülen movement, at home and in Western countries, of orchestrating the graft probes to oust him from power in what he called a judicial coup. Thousands of judges and prosecutors including those who were involved in the investigation of government officials were dismissed as he initiated an unprecedented crackdown on the movement.
President Erdoğan publicly appealed to his followers and encouraged them to make use of the informant hotline to tell police and prosecutors about his critics. Organizations aligned with Erdoğan in Europe had even run a campaign in 2016 advertising how expatriates should inform Turkey about people whom they knew to be Gülenists. Nordic Monitor reported several times in the past how Erdoğan's call found an audience in the large Turkish diaspora in Europe, resulting in the victimization of many Turks who do not share Erdoğan's Islamist vision and who object to his government's policies.
There are no updated official statistics on how many were informed on by this network. But according to an October 2016 statement issued by the Turkish police, the tips it received on Gülenists had totaled 40,000 in three months, overwhelming the police department.
Critics profiled by the government are subject to surveillance by agents of Turkish intelligence agency MIT abroad and are often denied consular services such as power of attorney and birth registry as well as having their passports revoked. Their assets in Turkey are seized and their family members at home risk criminal charges.
The Erdoğan government brands all of its critics as terrorists, and more than 100 journalists are currently locked up in Turkish prisons on terrorism charges, making Turkey one of the world's leading jailers of journalists. Over 30 percent of all Turkish diplomats, 60 percent of all senior police chiefs, half of all military generals and some 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors in Turkey were also declared terrorists overnight in 2016 by the executive decisions of the Erdoğan government without any effective administrative investigations and certainly without any judicial proceedings.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.