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Turkey ‘spied’ on pro-Gulen opponents in Germany

Turkey ‘spied’ on pro-Gulen opponents in Germany

German officials acknowledged on Tuesday that they had rebuffed a request by the Turkish government to spy on its opponents in Germany, the latest strain to relations as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey pursues a referendum next month to expand his powers.


Tensions between Turkey and a range of European countries have mounted in recent weeks as the Turkish government, in effect, seeks to broaden the scope of its activities among Turks living in Europe, who can also cast votes in the referendum, which Mr. Erdogan is by no means assured of winning.

The latest tension centers on supporters of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Mr. Erdogan of orchestrating last July’s failed coup in Turkey. Since then, Mr. Erdogan’s government has purged tens of thousands of people suspected of being Gulen supporters from jobs in schools, universities, the news media and state institutions. Mr. Gulen lives in Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, one of Germany’s leading newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and two public service broadcasters reported that Turkey had handed over a list of more than 300 individuals and about 200 associations, schools and other groups among the three million Turks living in Germany that supposedly support the exiled cleric.

Süddeutsche Zeitung said the list was given to Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, by his Turkish counterpart at the annual Munich Security Conference last month.

On Tuesday, the German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, showed little surprise at those reports. While not explicitly confirming them, he made it clear that Turkey’s request had been rebuffed and would continue to be.

“Germany will not tolerate foreign agencies spying on its territory,” Mr. de Maizière said on Tuesday.

“Espionage activities on German territory are punishable by law and are not tolerated,” he told reporters during a visit to Passau in southern Germany. “That applies to every foreign state and every intelligence agency.”

“We have already told Turkey several times that such things don’t work,” Mr. de Maizière added. “Independently of how one stands on the Gulen movement, it is German law which applies here and citizens who live here are not spied on here by foreign agencies.”

Mr. Kahl told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel that “Turkey has tried on the most different levels to convince us” that Gulen supporters are at work in Germany. “But it has not succeeded up till now,” he said.

In fact, rather than pursuing the request, German authorities have warned some Turks living in Germany that they may face difficulties in Turkey after being identified by the Turkish government as Gulen supporters.

The reports were the latest example of perceived Turkish intrusions in Europe, where Mr. Erdogan has been criticized for exploiting the openness of Western democracies to pursue greater authoritarian powers for himself.

In particular, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries have objected to Mr. Erdogan sending senior ministers on visits to Western Europe for overt or thinly disguised campaign rallies to support a referendum that could limit civil liberties in Turkey if it succeeds.

Mr. Erdogan has grown increasingly pointed in his attacks on Turkey’s allies in Europe as the vote approaches. When some Turkish ministers were prevented from appearing, Mr. Erdogan bitterly accused even the Dutch, whose country was occupied by the Nazis in World War II, of adopting Nazi tactics.

Turkish authorities had no immediate comment on the latest flurry. But the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported that Turkey’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, said a week ago that Mr. Kahl, the foreign intelligence chief, had made “a mockery of Turkish people’s intelligence” by rejecting Turkey’s evidence on Gulen supporters.

Defense Minister Fikri Isik of Turkey said Mr. Kahl “is either blind, deaf or feels the need to hide the suspects of the coup attempt.”

The German news agency DPA reported that the list had been widely distributed to Germany’s federal and state law enforcement authorities.

Boris Pistorius, the interior minister of Lower Saxony, one of Germany’s 16 states, posted a message on Twitter on Tuesday that said his officials had warned some unidentified Turks that they might face difficulties in Turkey after their names apparently appeared on the list.

“Lower Saxony informs those affected so they are warned when they travel to Turkey,” Mr. Pistorius wrote. He told reporters that 10 to 15 people were affected.

Mr. de Maizière was quick to discourage any effort by the Turkish government to restrict visits to Turkey by Turks living in Germany. He noted that Turkey, which is suffering from plummeting tourism, “also has an interest in seeing German tourists regularly visiting its country.”

In recent weeks, German authorities have also said they are investigating possible spying by Turkish­appointed imams in Germany. Those investigations continue.

Politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel on down have made plain they resent comparisons to the Nazis, defending the cancellation of appearances by Turkish politicians over security concerns.

Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, said in a speech on Monday that the Turkish referendum scheduled for April 16 aimed at “transforming an undoubtedly fragile but democratic system into an authoritarian system — and this second coup attempt may well be successful.”

A report on Swedish radio suggested that Turkey’s efforts to press its European allies over Gulen supporters reached well beyond Germany. The news agency Reuters reported from Stockholm that the public broadcaster SR said that Mr. Erdogan’s government was putting unspecified pressure on Swedish Gulen supporters — through the Union of Turkish European Democrats, a lobbying group that German intelligence said had ties to Mr. Erdogan’s party — to inform on colleagues.

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