Shortly afterwards, a new arrest warrant was issued, accusing Kavala of being behind the attempted coup d'etat in July 2016. According to a widespread rumour, the Pelican group allegedly put pressure on the Istanbul public prosecutor's office to keep Kavala in prison.

Links to a party and a think tank

The Pelican group is a wing of the ruling AKP Islamic-conservative party, led for the most part by Erdogan's son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, said Alican Uludag, adding that the group is preparing for Erdogan's successor and is particularly influential within the country's judiciary.

Firat Erez, a journalist and former member of the Istanbul-based Bosphorus Global think tank — regarded as the Turkish government's propaganda tool — once belonged to the Pelican group. The group met regularly with the Turkish president, he said. The group's luxurious headquarters, an Ottoman mansion on the Bosphorus, and the employees' salaries were financed by a private hospital run by Erdogan's close confidant, personal physician and health minister, Fahrettin Koca, according to Erez.

Solidarity with Osman Kavala – poster at a press conference given by his lawyers in October 2018 (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Solidarity with Osman Kavala: some three weeks after his acquittal and re-arrest, a new arrest warrant was issued against the Turkish intellectual Osman Kavala. The reason: an accusation of "political and military espionage" in connection with the attempted coup in 2016 that Kavala denies. In a statement, he made the Turkish president personally responsible for his re-arrest

The Pelican group is Erdogan's troll army, Erez said, offering an insight into its perfidious media strategy: the group tries to slander political opponents on social networks and spread disinformation. "Trolls besiege them with unfounded accusations and threats." It is a complex strategy used against powerful enemies, Erez told the Turkish newspaper Ahval.

Pelican targets Erdogan's rivals

The most prominent victim of such a slander campaign is said to be the former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In 2016, the group published a dossier on a public blog, known as the "Pelican File", which listed 27 points intended to prove Davutoglu's alleged betrayal of the "leader" Erdogan. The dossier incited large sections of the Turkish population to rise up against the prime minister to such an extent that he had to resign.

The Pelikan group is also alleged to have tried to manipulate the local elections in Istanbul on 31 March 2019 in order to prevent opposition politician Ekrem Imamoglu of the Social Democratic Party (CHP) from winning the elections. The group allegedly spread rumours on social networks that the CHP candidate had stolen votes and instigated a "coup at the ballot box".

So how far does the influence of the Pelican Group go? Is it Erdogan's troll army or Erdogan's shadow justice, or both? There are many rumours about the group. What is clear, however, is that the widespread speculation is a sign of the deep mistrust large sections of the population feel towards the Turkish state and its decision-makers.

Hulya Schenk & Daniel Derya Bellut

© Deutsche Welle 2020

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