BERLIN: A German state minister on Tuesday accused Turkey of “unacceptable” spying on alleged followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last year.
“It is notable with what intensity and ruthlessness the people living abroad are being investigated,” said Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the northern German state of Lower Saxony.
“It’s intolerable and unacceptable,” he said at a press conference.
Ankara had asked Berlin to help spy on about 300 alleged Gulen supporters, Pistorius said, adding that the list was handed to Germany’s spy service, which turned it over to state governments.
But Pistorius’s state decided instead to inform the more than 10 targets, including a school and at least two companies, fearing people could suffer ‘retaliation’ if they travelled to Turkey while unaware they were on a watch list.
Turkish authorities were acting with “something close to paranoia,” he said, adding that “all Gulen supporters are assumed to be terrorists and enemies of the state even though there is not the tiniest scrap of evidence.”
“Until today, we have no evidence whatsoever that Gulen supporters have violated any rules in any way.”
Although US-based cleric Gulen, 75, has always denied charges that he was involved in the failed coup last July to overthrow Erdogan, Ankara has cracked down hard on his followers.
More than 41,000 people in Turkey have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen’s movement, and 100,000 fired or suspended from their jobs. Many of them are teachers, police, magistrates and journalists.
In February, German police raided the homes of four Turkish Muslim preachers suspected of spying on alleged Gulen supporters for Erdogan’s government.
Erdogan has in turn accused Germany of harbouring Kurdish and other ‘militants’, claiming that Berlin is refusing to hand over alleged suspects.
Germany’s foreign intelligence chief Bruno Kahl also raised heckles in Turkey last week when he said he was unconvinced Gulen was behind the failed coup of July 15.
Ankara had repeatedly tried to convince Berlin that Gulen, who lives in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup, “but they have not succeeded”, Kahl told Der Spiegel magazine.
Kahl said that the putsch was launched by a “part of the military” that expected to be targeted in an ongoing government purge.
The latest German accusations came as ties are already badly strained over a wide range of issues surrounding human rights, particularly after the failed coup.
Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s post-coup crackdown, and is also urging Turkey to release a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt, who is jailed on terror charges.
Ankara has been riled by German authorities’ refusal to allow some
Turkish ministers to campaign in the country for a “yes” vote ahead of the April 16 referendum on giving Erdogan the powers of an executive presidency.