A Turkish court has ruled to declare as fugitives US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and 11 other defendants in the murder case of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, stripping them of their assets, if they don’t return to Turkey in the next 15 days, local media reported on Thursday.
The 52-year-old Dink, editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian bilingual Agos weekly, was shot dead with two bullets to the head outside the newspaper’s headquarters in central İstanbul on January 19, 2007 by a then-17-year-old jobless high-school dropout.
Ruling to convict 27 of the 76 defendants, the majority of them public officials, during the final hearing of the Dink murder trial held in March, the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court had previously separated the files of 13 fugitive suspects, including Gülen, on the grounds that their defense statements were not delivered.
The court also ruled that the journalist’s murder was committed “in line with the objectives of FETÖ” – a derogatory term used by the Turkish government to refer to the worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas and activism of Gülen as a terrorist organization.
The court on Thursday ruled to declare 12 of the 13 defendants fugitives and ordered the seizure of their assets if they fail to return to Turkey and appear before the court in the next 15 days, in line with a demand by the prosecutor at the first hearing held in June.
Journalists Adem Yavuz Arslan and Ekrem Dumanlı, former senior police intelligence officer Coşgun Çakar and former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, in addition to Gülen, are some of the suspects who are expected to be stripped of their assets.
For years, prosecutors have looked into alleged links between the suspects and Gülen, who is accused of masterminding a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016, although he strongly denies the charges.
The Turkish government’s ongoing crackdown on the Gülen movement was launched following corruption investigations in late 2013 that implicated Erdoğan’s close circle and culminated in the aftermath of a failed coup on July 15, 2016.
Although both Gülen and his followers deny any involvement in the abortive putsch and in any terrorist activity, a total of 622,646 people have been investigated and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the group since the failed coup, according to the latest Interior Ministry data. The data further shows that there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the faith-based movement.