Erdogan’s growing army of volunteer citizen informers

Financial Times reports: Browsing Facebook at home one Saturday, Bilgin Ciftci saw a post that made him chuckle. It was a montage of images of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan placed alongside Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. In the first, the president and the shrivelled inhabitant of Middle-earth shared a look of astonishment. The second showed both figures wide-eyed with wonder. In the third, Erdogan gnawed on a chicken drumstick while Gollum bit into a scaly fish.

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Ciftci, a doctor from the western town of Aydin, clicked “share” and thought no more of it. But a few weeks later, he was summoned to see the police and charged with insulting the president — a criminal offence in Turkey. He lost his job at a public hospital and became trapped in a legal ordeal that has so far dragged on for more than 18 months. At one stage, the judge appointed a panel of Tolkien experts to advise whether Gollum should be deemed good or bad (they ruled that he is good at heart).

Amid the absurdity, there was another, darker layer to the story. When he shared the meme, Ciftci, 48, believed he was only showing it to those in his private Facebook network. But the police had a screenshot of his page. They had not hacked his account or snooped on his computer. The truth was far more unsettling: he had been betrayed by someone he knew. Ciftci deduced that the culprit was the husband of one of his relatives. When he called up to confront him, the relative first denied it and then hung up the phone.

Ciftci’s ordeal reflects something bigger happening in Turkey, something that could come straight from the pages of a dystopian novel. On an almost weekly basis, stories emerge of friends, colleagues and even spouses reporting each other for a catalogue of offences. “This has become a phenomenon in our society,” says Ciftci from a café near Aydin courthouse, an institution now more familiar than he could ever have imagined. “There are people who are more royalist than the king. They become citizen informers.” [Continue reading…]

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