President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on Thursday that there are no serious rumors about Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen’s move to Canada, in contradiction to earlier statements from the government.
On his way back from Pakistan, Erdoğan responded to a question regarding Gülen, whom he declared the mastermind of a failed coup on July 15 despite the lack of any evidence.
“We hear such reports, too,” Erdoğan said and went on to say that there are no serious rumors on the issue but in the event there are, Turkey would contact Canada at the highest levels.
On Wednesday, Gülen who has lived in self-imposed exile Pennsylvania since 1999 and whose views inspired the Gülen movement, said that he has no plans to move to Canada.
A written statement issued by the New York-based Alliance for Shared Values, of which Gülen is the honorary president, denied that Gülen has purchased property in Canada or elsewhere and said he has no intention of leaving the United States.
“The Alliance for Shared Values rejects the accusation by Mr. Numan Kurtulmuş, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, that Mr. Fethullah Gülen is planning a move to Canada. Mr. Gülen has not purchased any property in Canada or elsewhere and has no intention of leaving the United States.”
“The same allegation was made on July 28, 2016, by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ. This is nothing more than a false rumor being circulated again to divert attention from the [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan government’s domestic repressions and autocratic drive, and to exert pressure on the US government to arrest Mr. Gülen. The Alliance calls on the Turkish government to end its witch hunt against all voices of democratic dissent, including journalists, academics, Kurds, liberals, and participants of Hizmet [Gülen movement] alike,” the statement said.
During a press conference on Monday, Kurtulmuş said that intelligence gathered by Turkey indicated that followers of Fethullah Gülen had purchased “land and farms” in Canada, where he may be planning to move from the US.
Justice Minister Bozdağ also claimed last week that they had purchased ranches in various locations in Canada, in the event of a possible US decision to extradite him.
Following the failed coup on July 15 last year that killed 240 people and injured a thousand others, the Turkish government launched a widespread witch-hunt against Gülen followers and contacted US counterparts in an attempt to extradite Gülen
US officials, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have several times said that it is the US courts that will decide on Gülen’s extradition if a case is filed against him with concrete evidence that shows his involvement in a crime.
Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Gülen called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
In the currently ongoing post-coup purge, over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement, according to a statement by the labor minister on Jan. 10. As of March 1, 93,248 people were being held without charge, with an additional 46,274 in pre-trial detention.
A total of 7,316 academics were dismissed as 4,070 judges and prosecutors were purged over alleged coup involvement or terrorist links.