Gov’t criticized for forcing scientific researcher to alter report


Date posted: February 21, 2014

ANKARA

Claims by the former head of a scientific research agency who was dismissed a day after his public remarks that he was forced to make changes to a report that was part of an investigation into bugging devices found at the prime minister’s office have triggered a harsh reaction against the government.

According to observers, the government not only sought to alter the official report to suit its own interests but also launched a smear campaign against the Hizmet movement.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as several members of his government, has long claimed that bugging devices found in the prime minister’s office had been placed there by individuals close to the Hizmet movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

In a blistering statement about his recent dismissal from the top post at the Research Center for Advanced Technologies on Informatics and Information Security (BİLGEM) — a critical department within Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey’s (TÜBİTAK) that prepares expert reports for court cases and state agencies — Hasan Palaz said he was forced to make changes to a scientific report that was prepared as part of a criminal investigation into the planting of bugging devices in Erdoğan’s office in Parliament and his home in 2012.

The prime minister announced on a live TV program on the evening of Dec. 23, 2012, that bugging devices had been found in the office of his Ankara home, but he did not specify when the devices had been found. “Security units [the police] found those devices. They were placed inside the office in my house. Such things occur despite all measures taken to prevent them,” he stated.

There were earlier rumors that two listening devices had been discovered in the prime minister’s office in Parliament and that two of Erdoğan’s guards had been fired in connection with the discovery. This was followed by claims that two other bugging devices had also been found in his car.

Sources from the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office that spoke to the media on condition of anonymity said an investigation had been launched into the bugs after the prime minister spoke about them on the TV program.

TÜBİTAK was tasked with examining the bugging devices, and Palaz led the work on the listening devices, he said in a written statement on Thursday.

Palaz said he shared the findings with the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Prime Ministry. He also briefed the Prime Ministry’s disciplinary board twice about the content of the scientific report on the listening devices. Two years after the inquiry, Palaz said he had been asked by some people he called “influential figures” to change the date when one of the bugging devices started functioning. “They told me to change the date when the device began functioning. They said I would be labeled as a ‘man of certain circles’ [a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement] if I refused to change the date. They also said I would be removed from my post. They put pressure on me,” Palaz stated.

Facing unethical political pressure to change the details of a scientific document that was prepared in line with scientific norms, Palaz said his conscience and respect for his profession would not allow him to bow to political whims and pressure and tamper with the findings.

Palaz said he faced threats of dismissal from his post if he failed to comply with the demand to make changes to the report, and after Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün was replaced by Fikri Işık, those threats turned into reality.

Palaz was sacked as chair of BİLGEM and reportedly faces pressure to resign from TÜBİTAK. Instead of preparing politically motivated reports that lack scientific quality and impartiality to meet the demands of politicians, Palaz said his respect for the profession keeps him out of the political wrangling and bickering that could cheapen science. “The pressure [on me] is ongoing. They will probably remove me from my post at TÜBİTAK. I will ask the police to protect me,” he added.

A day after his public remarks, he was eventually sacked from the scientific reserach agency, where he has worked for 24 years. Speaking to the T24 on Friday, he said he was informed about his dismissal from the agency without an explanation over the reason of his removal.

Journalist and writer Adem Yavuz Arslan, while commenting on Palaz’s statement, described the bugging claims against the Hizmet movement as a “conspiracy.”

“Now we all see how a conspiracy [against the Hizmet movement] was made. Palaz’s statement openly shows who is seeking a coup,” he said, implying that the government is plotting a “civilian coup” against the people. The government, since the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigation went public, has alleged that the operation was orchestrated by the Hizmet movement in an attempt to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

In a stern warning, Palaz said the government’s interference in TÜBİTAK reports and politicians’ meddling in scientific inquiries would undermine science’s integrity.

Science, Industry and Technology Minister Işık, however, denied Palaz’s remarks and accused the researcher of “devising a scenario” that is fictional.

“It is ugly [for him] to bring up such a claim. If he was pressured to make changes to his report, then why doesn’t he bring his claims to the judiciary?” he asked.

MHP puts Palaz’s remarks on Parliament’s agenda

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Yusuf Halaçoğlu, on the other hand, described Palaz’s statement as “bomb-like” and said the government should explain why it wanted to have the TÜBİTAK report about the bugging devices altered. “If the claims raised by Palaz are correct, then it is clear that the government has not only introduced censorship [in the media] but also interfered in scientific reports and research. This is a disaster,” he stated on Thursday evening while delivering a speech in Parliament.

According to Halaçoğlu, Turkey is moving away from the norms of democracy and the rule of law. “If the government is putting such huge pressure on a man of science [to change his report], then we cannot trust any report issued by state institutions. We can no longer believe in the report issued by the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) [the report claimed that a headscarf-wearing woman was attacked by a group of men in İstanbul’s Kabataş neighborhood during the Gezi Park protests last year],” he stated.

Veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak agreed that the bugging claims were a “plot” against the Hizmet movement. “The prime minister was convinced [by his advisers] that he had been illegally wiretapped by the Hizmet movement. But they were unable to make TÜBİTAK prepare a report to back their claims,” she said.

Arzu Yıldız, also a journalist, wonders what the prosecutors investigating the bugging claims will do in the aftermath of Palaz’s statement. “What will the prosecutors do? I guess nothing,” she said.

Also on Thursday, Erdoğan told his AK Party deputies that he knows who placed the listening devices in his office at the Prime Ministry but that those men had fled abroad. “It is clear who placed those devices in my office; they must be tried. But they have fled abroad. We cannot try them for this reason,” the prime minister said.

MHP deputy Nevzat Korkmaz also delivered a speech in Parliament on Thursday, saying the government should explain who illegally wiretapped Gülen’s phone conversations. “They [the government] claim that they were wiretapped by the parallel state [a label the prime minister uses for the Hizmet movement]. If the parallel state wiretapped the government, then who wiretapped Gülen? Did the government also establish its own parallel state to wiretap Gülen?” he asked.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Erdal Aksünger said Palaz’s statement has revealed the government’s increasing pressure on men of science in Turkey. “Turkey is heading toward a dictatorial regime,” he said, adding that he believes the prime minister has been emphasizing the bugging devices and wiretaps to manipulate the national agenda. “No prime minister in any country would publicly say that he was illegally wiretapped. If the claims of wiretapping are correct, then this reveals a security flaw. If they are not correct, then they serve as proof that the prime minister is working to manipulate the agenda,” he added.

In a written statement late Wednesday, the prime ministry dismissed claims of Palaz, said the allegations of pressure for change aims to disrupt the ongoing legal process and discredit the investigation led by the office of Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 21, 2014


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