Main opposition leader criticized for using gov’t’s vague ‘terror’ definition

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Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), attracted criticism on social media after he vowed on Thursday to reinstate former officials removed from their jobs by emergency decree-laws if they win the next general election “unless those people were involved in terrorism,” local media reported on Friday.

Following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Former civil servants were not only fired from their jobs; they were also banned from working again in the public sector and getting a passport. The government also made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector. Notes were put on the social security database about dismissed public servants to deter potential employers.

Decree-law victims took to Twitter after Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks, criticizing him for using the same vague “terror” definition as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which paved the way for their victimization, and questioning the real meaning behind the words “unless they were involved in terrorism.”

“Can you explain your definition of ‘terror’ Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu? [I’m asking this] because those who rule the state consider almost half of the country terrorists,” a Twitter user said.

“I wonder what Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu meant by ‘terror.’ I hope it’s not such actions as subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines or being a customer of a certain bank or enrolling [children] in some prep schools,” another user commented.

Following the failed coup of July 15, 2016, the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, and using the ByLock mobile phone app, subscribing to the Zaman daily or other publications affiliated with members of the Gülen movement, inspired by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the faith-based movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

Erdoğan, who has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle, designated the movement as a terrorist organization and intensified the crackdown on its members following the coup attempt that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

The Turkish government’s vague “terror” definition ended up launching hundreds of thousands of terrorism investigations into hundreds of thousands of people, primarily members of the Gülen movement. Most dismissed civil servants are also accused of links to the Gülen movement, although there were many others who belonged to other opposition groups.

Since the attempted coup, Erdoğan has been accusing more and more of his opponents and the groups opposing his decisions of being “terrorists,” a move seen by critics as a growing attempt to reinforce his authoritarian governance.

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