German prosecutors are investigating Turkish nationalist organised crime groups and motorcycle clubs operating in Europe after German police found a “hit list” of 55 dissident journalists and activists living in Germany earlier this summer.
According to Turkish journalists living in Germany as well as law enforcement sources in two European countries, prosecutors started the investigation into a list of 55 dissidents – activists and journalists – who have fled Turkey for Germany during a decade of purges and arbitrary arrests of reporters and civil society members by the government of President Recep Erdogan.
Since 2013, Erdogan has aggressively squashed political opponents in Turkey and after a failed 2016 coup attempt that saw hundreds of thousands of political opponents detained or purged from government jobs. Germany’s already sizeable Turkish diaspora has become home to many dissidents fleeing arrest or persecution. Now it looks like they may not be safe even in Germany.
“The Germans have a list of about 50 people that appear to be targeted and we are checking our own lists to determine who might be threatened here as well because Belgium has a significant Turkish diaspora and sees many of the same organised crime and biker entities as Germany,” said a Belgian law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified.
The Belgian source said that Germany was extremely concerned after an attack on Turkish journalist Erk Acarer in front of his home in Berlin on the 8th of July. German Federal Police and prosecutors refused to comment.
“The journalists who approach the government critically cannot practice the profession of journalism in Turkey any longer, which is bad enough,” said Frank Überall, chair of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), in a statement. “The fact that they are forced to live in fear in Germany, where they have taken refuge, is not acceptable in any way whatsoever."
At least half a dozen dissidents and journalists have confirmed visits from the German authorities warning of their presence on a list of people suspected to be targeted by Turkish organised crime groups and the regime in Ankara. At least two are reported to have been given police protection and other protections for a specific threat.
Celal Başlangıç, the editor-in-chief of Artı TV and Artı Gerçek website, whose name is on the list, was approached by the police about the investigation. He told Arti TV, "We understood from what officers said that there is an investigation. There is a police officer handling the case and a case file. Our attorney is dealing with the matter and trying to get information. It seems like a file that the German police take seriously."
“There’s always been some spilling of Turkish political violence into Europe because it's a close proximity diaspora, they live in Europe but are physically very close to Turkey, but that used to be mostly Turks and Kurds”, said the Belgian official. “Now we fear it’s expanding because of the power of the Turkish organised crime and bikers in Europe and their perceived willingness to do political violence against peaceful political dissidents.”
Europe has seen a rise in Turkish organised crime in the past decades as ethnic Turks have expanded into organised crime roles once dominated by Turkish Kurds, who long dominated Europe’s heroin smuggling routes. But Erdogan’s brand of ultra-nationalism has resonated with hard right Turkish motorcycle gangs, who themselves have expanded into organised crime in Europe and are feared to be willing to target the political opponents of the regime back home.
A French police official confirmed that in France there has also been a shift in concerns about crime related to Turkey. Previously French police were more concerned about political violence as part of the decades long conflict in Turkey with the Kurds. Now they fear peaceful dissidents staying in France are being targeted by Turkish organised crime on behalf of the ruling party.
“We used to focus on a main concern of political violence between the Kurds and Turks,” said the French police official, who is responsible for public security in sections of central Paris speaking on condition of anonymity. “This remains an issue but now we see many more threats against peaceful dissident Turks who fled Turkey, often after the [failed 2016] coup.”