Ergenekon, Gülen and media freedom

The latest brouhaha over the prosecutors’ investigations peeling another layer off Turkey’s Ergenekon terrorist network is a clear indicator that the vicious hate-mongering organization, with plots to kill Christians and Jews in a Muslim-majority country, still has operational capabilities to wage a propaganda campaign to try and inflict damage on what many described as the “trial of the century” to rid the country of the shadowy ultranationalist network long nestled in the Turkish state.

The recent arrest of half a dozen journalists with regard to the case was presented by some as an issue concerning “freedom of the press” when in fact none of the accused was charged with a violation that has anything to do with freedom of speech but rather for allegedly being involved in aiding and abetting the terrorist network. The well-orchestrated campaign of slander, distortion and lies to discredit the Ergenekon case mobilized hardcore Ergenekon activists to attack the police, the judiciary, the army, the government and popular civic groups in this country using whatever means they deemed necessary.

Based on a public statement issued by the prosecutor’s office, we know the summary charges brought against the arrested reporters, but we have not seen the real evidence that compelled a panel of judges to remand these journalists into state custody pending trial. We must note that most jurists in Turkey believe the evidence must be overwhelming to force prosecutors to seek detention, and it seems the judges agreed with that justification as well.

Let’s make one thing clear. The Ergenekon gang obviously tries to spin news stories to make the case appear flawed while struggling to win the public relations campaign, at home and abroad, with frivolous attempts such as putting out a preposterous claim that the faith-based Fethullah Gülen civic movement, revered and respected by millions in Turkey, was behind the so-called “witch hunt” by prosecutors. Groups affiliated with Ergenekon are trying to create controversy over arrested journalist Ahmet Şık’s upcoming book on Gülen titled “İmamın Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army), saying the police and prosecutors sympathetic to Gülen’s ideas were after censuring the book.

If that were the case, the police and prosecutors should have filed criminal charges against each and every writer who has published similar books and articles about Gülen. But that has never happened. Instead, Gülen has had to defend his record personally with civil libel suits in the courts, winning numerous cases over the past three decades and being awarded compensation. Even an overzealous state prosecutor’s protracted campaign to indict Gülen on similar bogus charges backfired when the district court dismissed all charges and the appellate court upheld the decision. Nevertheless, the rumors have never stopped, and books full of claims proven in court to be false are still widely available today in bookstores across the country.

What makes Şık’s upcoming book about Gülen so different that prosecutors were compelled to take action against the author? Prosecutors say this book was quite distinct in that it was written with the explicit directions and support of the Ergenekon terrorist gang for the purpose of derailing the case or at least making it look flawed in the eyes of the public. The book was not independent research conducted by an investigative journalist but rather part of a plot designed and put into action by the terrorist network itself. In other words, the target was not Gülen; he was in fact the victim of the terrorist group’s “means to an end” strategy to achieve some hidden goal. By involving the name of the highly respected Muslim scholar with a significant moderating impact on Turkish society, the Ergenekon gang intended to stir up a national controversy in Turkey on the eve of national elections, scheduled to be held on June 12.

What is more, with false claims like that of Gülen controlling the national police and judiciary, the terrorist network tried to pit government agencies against each other. Rumors of the police being against the army and the judiciary being at odds with the government were intentionally floated to weaken the political will to support the ongoing case and to create doubts in people’s minds. As people grew suspicious about the case, polarization in society would be blamed on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The ultimate goal was to prevent a popular reformist government from winning a third term in the elections, an outcome seen as detrimental to the future of the terrorist network.

Again this probe is not about censoring an upcoming book about Gülen. Let’s keep in mind that when the prosecutors submit the final folder of evidence to the court to back up the indictment, we’ll see the manuscript of the book, which will then be part of public knowledge, anyway. Therefore, everyone will be able to read the manuscript eventually, and I’m sure it will be no different that other fictitious books written about Gülen. It should be stressed that in the current case prosecutors are simply trying to put pieces of the puzzle together in the Ergenekon maze, following the paper trail to the terrorist network’s rabbit hole.

Moreover, according to a leaked report that appeared in the Turkish media last week, the testimony of expert witnesses who analyzed the draft version of the book already verified that the book was definitely part of the orchestrated campaign to weaken the Ergenekon case. It was not written by Şık alone. The pages of the manuscript had numerous side notes instructing the author to make additions and changes to paragraphs. Police are trying hard to find out who these co-conspirators who assisted Şık in writing the book are.

There appear to be more smoking guns out there to strengthen the prosecution’s case. We already know, for example, that the police uncovered a hideous plan called “National Media 2010” while searching the house of the owner of the neo-nationalist news portal, Soner Yalçın, who was later arrested by the court. The document mentioned plans to shape public opinion through manipulative news stories about the Ergenekon case as well as many other issues. Prosecutors believe the book about Gülen is simply part of that plan as well. In fact, the national media reported that there appear to be seven more books already in the works by Ergenekon in addition to the one about Gülen.

As the terrorist network’s vicious campaign of slander and intimidation picks up speed on the eve of parliamentary elections, we will surely witness more plots being put into practice by the Ergenekon gang and its affiliates. But no matter what happens, this great nation, with its impressive common sense, will see through the faces of these dark forces and foil their secret plans. Democracy, transparency and the rule of law will eventually prevail in Turkey.

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