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Erdoğan announces move to frame Gülen movement as “terrorist organization”

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Friday that he is expecting a Cabinet decision that will officially declare sympathizers of the Gülen movement as a “terrorist organization” in order to put them on trial, in what is widely considered a move by the president of acting like the judiciary.

In a new attempt to frame the Gülen movement, Erdoğan said “Now we are awaiting a Cabinet decision from the government, we will register them as a terrorist organization. They will be put in a judicial process under the same category with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. Because they made this nation suffer.”

Since a massive corruption investigation that implicated then-ministers of the Cabinet came to public attention on Dec. 17, 2013, Erdoğan and the AK Party government claimed that the investigation was a “coup attempt” against the government and accused the Gülen movement of being behind it. The sons of ministers, well-known business people, a district mayor, a director of a state-owned bank, who were all indicted in the investigation, were released and the prosecutors overseeing the case were discharged as a result of political interference.

The major graft case was closed by other prosecutors who replaced them. The graft probe implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Erdoğan refers to the movement as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization,” which is used by the government-backed judiciary to frame sympathizers of the Gülen movement, a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan also coined the term “parallel state” after December 2013 to refer to people believed to be inspired by the ideas of Gülen, especially those within the state bureaucracy.

Following the Dec. 17 corruption and bribery scandal, Erdoğan and the government launched a witch hunt against the Gülen movement and its sympathizers. Erdoğan personally declared he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. Thousands of prosecutors, judges and police chiefs were reassigned, dismissed or imprisoned either for taking part in the corruption investigation or based on allegations of having links to the movement. Also there have been many police operations carried out targeting shopkeepers, teachers, members of the judiciary, journalists and police officers who are accused of being affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement.

The Gülen movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it. There is not a court decision which declares the movement as a “terrorist group” either.

Following Erdoğan’s statements, Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior Turkey researcher, Emma Sinclair-Webb wrote on her Twitter account, “Another reason why revising terror laws not on agenda: Erdogan smears non violent Gulen movement with terror label.”

According to a migrant deal between Turkey and the European Union, Turkey needs to fulfill the 72 criteria for visa-free travel, however Erdoğan and AK Party government refuses to change the anti-terrorism law, which is one of the criteria.

During Friday’s speech, Erdoğan also lashed out at the recent meeting of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the party’s criticism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the president himself. Erdoğan accused CHP deputies of being immoral.

According to the Turkish Constitution, the individual who is elected president must cut off all their ties with political parties, including his former party. The president, whose position is rather symbolic than political, is responsible for remaining at an equal distance from all political parties.

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