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Analysis: Clouds linger following Turkish Twitter storm over Mir Quasem

  • Published at 11:42 pm September 5th, 2016
  • Last updated at 08:42 am September 6th, 2016
Analysis: Clouds linger following Turkish Twitter storm over Mir Quasem
While the gallows were being prepared for Mir Quasem at Kashimpur Central Jail on Saturday morning, thousands of miles away in Turkey a social media campaign was taking shape to protest the execution. The hashtag #FreeMirQuasem protesting the “unfair execution attempt of a renowned Islamic entrepreneur by Bangladesh government” first surfaced on Twitter. By the evening of September 3, thousands of tweets, retweets and screenshots of memorandums, almost all in Turkish and published by various pressure groups, had started to flood the social media sphere, including Facebook. The Dhaka Tribune’s social media editors have curated some of the posts and tweets: This Turkish preoccupation with Bangladesh's war crimes trials is not new.

Post-Nizami

What began as apparently individual tweets and posts appeared to culminate in a statement from the Turkish government just 24 hours after Mir Quasem’s execution, expressing “sorrow” over the convicted war criminal's death. A statement from the country's foreign ministry read: “...[sic] We stress once again that the wounds of the past cannot be healed with these methods [capital punishment] and hope that this wrong practice will not lead to separation among the brotherly people of Bangladesh.” Compared with a previous outburst by Turkey's president following the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, the reaction to Mir Quasem's hanging was mild. After Nizami’s execution, Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Europe for its “silence” over the execution and blamed the West for having “double standards.”
Read more: Nizami's execution: Erdogan condemns Europe's silence
Nizami was hanged at Dhaka jail on May 10 for his crimes, including genocide and the massacre of intellectuals, during the 1971 Liberation War. "If you are against political executions, why did you remain silent to the execution of Motiur Rahman Nizami,” Erdogan said in a televised speech, and referred to the Jamaat leader as having been “martyred.” [youtube id="PPPsaR7j3Ss"] But when Erdogan described Saudi Arabia’s executions as an “internal legal matter” earlier this January, many questioned whether the double standards he had earlier railed against were not his own.
Read more: Erdogan's double talk on capital punishment
“The executions in Saudi Arabia are an internal legal matter. Whether you approve of the decision or not is a separate issue,” Erdogan had said in another televised speech. The saga did not end there: Turkey briefly withdrew its ambassador to Bangladesh in response to Nizami’s execution.
Read more: Nizami execution: Turkey withdraws Bangladesh ambassador
There has been a drastic shift in Turkey’s domestic political situation since the Nizami hanging. Erdogan has successfully dealt with an attempted coup d'etat and it’s alleged backers have been facing severe repercussions since then. [youtube id="jW_c30hwXTM"] Thousands of followers of Fethullah Gülen, an exiled pro-Islamist politician with a hardcore anti-Erdogan stance, have been purged, thrown into jail, sacked and suspended from work, pending investigation. According to media reports, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina condemned the July 15 coup attempt. Since the coup attempt, Erdogan has been busy strengthening relationships with allies and building new friendships globally. He even paid a visit to the Kremlin and met Vladimir Putin, with whom he was briefly engaged in a heated war of words after a Russian air force jet was shot down by a Turkish missile earlier this year. [youtube id="9ONc6yXvW9M"] And Hasina’s diplomatic gesture did not go unnoticed either. At a press briefing in Dhaka on August 16, Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Devrim Ozturk lauded Hasina’s statement and said Ankara does not want to interfere in Bangladesh's domestic issues. He explained that Erdogan's statements against the war criminal’s execution had been issued due to Turkey’s opposition to capital punishment.

Post-Quasem

With memories of the July coup attempt still fresh, little goes unchecked in Turkey – unwelcome commentary is frankly not welcome. Ideological opponents of the Erdogan government are reportedly under fire. And yet tweets like Harun Yahya’s face neither censorship nor censure. Indeed, it has been retweeted many times by Turkish TV personalities and celebrities. To some this indicates that Yahya's tweet is in sync with the sentiments of the Turkish establishment. The Twitter storm generated by Turks opposed to Mir Quasem's execution, taken together with Sunday’s foreign ministry statement, suggest to some that this is all not mere coincidence.