On 16 September, I published an exclusive investigation into Turkish state-sponsorship of jihadist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State (ISIS): ‘Whistleblower exposes how NATO’s leading ally is arming and funding ISIS.’
The story is based largely on interviews with a top Turkish police whistleblower, Ahmet Yayla — former Chief of Counterterrorism in the Turkish National Police — but includes analysis of other public record sources and documents.
Among the allegations put forward by my source is that the Turkish humanitarian relief charity, IHH, has funnelled military and logistical supplies to jihadists in Syria, including directly to ISIS fighters, under the cover of charitable work. IHH operates officially as the arm of the Turkish government aid agency, TIKA.
These are not new allegations. Previous allegations have been made in less detail by other police and intelligence sources, and reported in the Turkish media — until they were censored under the authority of President Erdogan.
Yayla, however, provided me with previously unknown details on police inquiries into the IHH activities. He also provided even more damning testimony on his direct knowledge of Turkish state complicity in the rise of ISIS, which you can read about here.
But on 29 September, I received an email from a Turkish law firm based in Istanbul, Yilidirm Hukuk, on behalf of IHH. The firm demanded that my article interviewing Yayla be immediately removed.
The email added:
“… if you don’t remove this wrong information we have to apply to the legal authorities against you.”
The email also included an attachment containing what was described as “the refutation text” about my news.
The “refutation text” accused my source, Ahmet Yayla, of being “a member of Gulenist terror organisation.” The source of this accusation is, the text says, “the judiciary” — a reference, of course, to the thoroughly compromised judicial authorities in Turkey, where due process appears to have been brutally suppressed in order to target Turkish political dissidents who disagree with President Erdogan.
Beyond the claims of the Turkish government, there is no evidence whatsoever that Yayla, a senior counterterrorism police officer for over 20 years, is a Gulenist.
The IHH statement also makes slavish references to the mass censorship and crackdown on free expression in Turkey under Erdogan’s administration. Under the crackdown, stories critical of Erdogan have been expunged, and media that published them have been either shut down or undergone a forcible editorial takeover by Erdogan acolytes:
“First of all, it is required to be underlined that the client IHH doesn’t have slightest connection with any illegal organization. The client foundation presents aid service to millions of oppressed people, mostly war victims in our country and more than 135 countries of the world. Within this frame, the client foundation, whose main task to extend a hand to the people, who suffer from war and in need of aid because of poverty, natural diseases and disasters, has and will have nothing to do with any terrorist organization.
“The name of client, IHH-Humanitarian Aid Foundation is purposely being used on the Syria focused news by those, who has bad intentions and are fed from chaos and fighting disturbed from its activities, carried out both in Turkey and all over the world and, a misperception is being tried to be formed by showing the client connected to the illegal organizations. During this period, the courts have determined that these news contained information contrary to the facts and these news have been denied and the access to the internet publications has been blocked as a result of the legal applications, made by us. Furthermore, the news owners, who couldn’t prove these heavy accusations, have been confined various penalties as a result of the lawsuits, which were opened against them. In conclusion, the falseness of the accusations, made in your news about the client, have been made firm with many court orders, these false accusations have caused a negative perception to formed about the client in the eyes of our donators. Thus, sharing of the facts for correction of this misperception is highly important from the angle of continuation of our foundation’s services.
“Therefore, you are hereby requested to provide a chance for client İHH to respond against these baseless accusations, to be published on your website and also requested to remove the information contrary to the facts about the client, which has nothing to do with the accusations in the subject news and case, from the text of the news. On the contrary, by the lawyers of IHH, all legal remedies will be applied against you.
“Counsel of IHH — Humanitarian Aid Foundation
“Att. Ugur YILDIRIM/ Att. Burak TURAN”
Unfortunately, it appears that Mr Yildirim and his colleague, Mr Turan, are unaware that the world is not an extension of President Erdogan’s ego.
So, no, I won’t be removing my exclusive story on Ahmet Yayla’s detailed insider allegations on the Turkish government’s longstanding support for terrorist groups across the border.
But as an independent, crowdfunded journalist, I am obviously deeply troubled at receiving such effective threats of censorship from an organisation with close ties to the Turkish state.
It’s precisely the independence that comes from being crowdfunded that enables me to undertake these sorts of investigations, and to stand firm in the face of the threats that follow.