A total of 117,208 people have been convicted while more than 600,000 have been the subject of investigation in Turkey due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday, citing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.
The Gülen movement is a worldwide civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam. The bases of the movement are diverse service projects that are initiated, funded and conducted by people who are motivated by the humanitarian discourse of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric resident in the US.
Immediately after the coup attempt, which claimed the lives of 251 people, injured a thousand others and was suppressed overnight, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, labeling the group as a terrorist organization.
Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Calling the coup attempt “a gift from God,” Erdoğan initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
According to the figures Bozdağ gave Anadolu days before the sixth anniversary of the failed 2016 coup, 117,208 people have been convicted, with 1,366 sentenced to life in prison and 1,634 to aggravated life with no chance of parole. While 87,519 people have been acquitted of charges specifically related to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, according to Bozdağ, there are doubts about the number of people who have been acquitted of all charges by a court of law.
Judicial experts voice skepticism about the figures announced by Bozdağ, saying that 117,208 convictions are only those that have been upheld by an appeals court, since Justice Ministry data show that more than 265,000 people were sentenced on charges of terrorist organization membership between 2016 and 2020 due to their alleged Gülen links.
Bozdağ also said there were currently 19,300 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement, while there were 29,455 more who are accused of links to the movement and haven’t yet been apprehended, although arrest warrants have been issued for them.
The minister further said the government had sought the extradition of 1,133 people with alleged links to the Gülen movement from 110 countries so far but that only three of their requests, two to Hungary and one to Algeria, have been complied with.
Citing data from the Interior Ministry, Bozdağ added that 121 people accused of alleged Gülen links and were sought by the government also have been deported to Turkey from other countries.
Referring to an extradition request for Fethullah Gülen, the minister said: “Turkey has repeatedly requested [the extradition of] Gülen from the US. They haven’t responded positively to our requests. I also said during my visit there, ‘There’s more than enough evidence in the file. Please fulfill our extradition requests.’ [But] they said, ‘If we send them to court, they’ll decide against you. As a result, we don’t want to send them.’”
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and 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 locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt, carrying out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including over 4,000 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.
Such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institution linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines were accepted as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged members of the movement.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.