Turkey detains, arrests people for Gülen links on basis of scant evidence: US report

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A report recently released by the US Department of State says that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government continues to detain and arrest Turks over alleged links to the Gülen movement, “often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process.”

According to the report, titled “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020: Turkey,” the AKP government labeled the movement of “self-exiled cleric and political figure Fethullah Gülen” as “the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO),” in the aftermath of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, while it “is not a designated terrorist organization in the United States.”

“The Turkish government continues to detain and arrest Turkish citizens as well as foreign citizens residing in Turkey, including locally employed staff at the U.S. Mission to Turkey, for alleged FETO or terrorism-related links, often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process,” the report said.

The AKP government also continued to dismiss military, security and civil servants from public office in 2020, having dismissed or suspended more than 125,000 civil servants from public office, arrested more than 96,000 citizens and closed more than 1,500 NGOs for alleged FETO links, since the failed coup, according to the report.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he alleged Gülen to have orchestrated, an accusation strongly denied by the cleric as well as the group.

The report also said Turkey has a broad definition of terrorism, including so-called crimes against the constitutional order and internal and external security of the state, which is regularly used by the government to criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Citing data from the Turkish Interior Ministry, the report said the government examined 14,186 social media accounts and took legal action against more than 6,743 social media users whom it accused of “propagandizing or promoting terror organizations, inciting persons to enmity and hostility, or insulting state institutions.”

“Legal actions taken by Turkey against the accused included a mix of charges related to terrorism or other criminal activity under Turkish law,” it added.

It was also stated in the report that politically motivated detentions and arrests of individuals in Turkey, including journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and politicians accused of supporting or aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), continued in 2020.

The outlawed PKK, which has been waging a bloody war in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984, is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

The report further said Turkey was “a source and transit country” for foreign terrorist fighters seeking to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq as well as for foreign terrorist fighters who seek to depart Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey continues its efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the PKK, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, and ISIS. Turkey is an active contributor in international counterterrorism fora, including the GCTF [Global Counterterrorism Forum] and the Defeat-ISIS Coalition,” the Department of State said.

“From 2015 until December, Turkey deported 8,143 individuals for suspected terrorism ties, with Turkey’s ‘banned from entry’ list reportedly containing around 100,000 names,” the report said, citing interior ministry data, and adding that Turkish authorities had detained 2,343 suspected ISIS supporters for questioning and pressed charges against 333 of them.

“Turkish press alleged that one suspect, Mahmut Ozden, detained in August, was the ISIS emir for Turkey; he has reportedly been detained in Turkey at least four previous times,” the department further said.

“The PKK continues to conduct terrorist attacks in Turkey and against Turkish interests outside of Turkey including by taking hostages,” the report said, with 35 civilians, 41 security force members and 265 PKK militants having been killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes this year, according to the data from the International Crisis Group.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç criticized the report in a written statement on Friday, saying that allegations regarding the disproportionate and groundless restriction of rights and freedoms in Turkey by way of the broad definition of terrorism were “baseless” and “unacceptable.”

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