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British MP says at PACE meeting Gülen, target of ‘ridiculous, constant attack,’ isn’t a terrorist

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British lawmaker Sir Edward Leigh said during a speech at a recent session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric resident in the US whose views have inspired the Gülen movement, isn’t a terrorist as he is designated by the Turkish authorities, the TR724 news website reported on Wednesday.

“And this ridiculous constant attack on Mr. Gülen – he is not a terrorist, no Western security agency accepts for a moment that Mr. Gülen heads a terrorist organization,” Leigh said on Wednesday in response to a Turkish MP’s comment on a report drafted by PACE’s Monitoring Committee.

PACE on Wednesday passed a midterm review of developments in Turkey, which underlined some “issues of concern” such as the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and checks and balances, restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, the overly broad interpretation of anti-terror legislation and the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The report also said in a footnote: “The [Turkish] authorities referred to the ruling of 16th Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation of 24 April 2017, upheld by the Assembly of Criminal Chambers of the Court of Cassation, establishing that the FETÖ was the clandestine terrorist organization behind the coup attempt of 2016, during which 251 people were killed and 2,734 injured. The Gülen movement is only recognized as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, and the Assembly did not take a position on this issue. We will therefore stick to the terminology used in previous Assembly reports.”

Zeki Hakan Sıdalı, a lawmaker from Turkey’s nationalist İYİ (Good) Party, on Wednesday criticized co-rapporteurs John Howell (United Kingdom, EC/DA) and Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC), authors of the report, for their wording regarding the Gülen movement, which is designated as a terrorist organization by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

“Why do you think would you carry out a coup attempt against democracy? Why do you still call those who carried out coup attempts ‘movements’? Every democratic endeavor is valuable, but the double standards you continue to apply overshadow your efforts,” Sıdalı said in comments on the report.

“May I say that this report is an excellent report produced by my colleague Mr. John Howell and his co-rapporteur. … There is absolutely no doubt that democracy and an independent judiciary and freedom of the press is in retreat [in Turkey]. I think any objective person would accept that,” Leigh later said, adding that no Western security agency accepts the claims that Gülen heads a terrorist organization.

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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

According to a statement from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ in July, 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 following the coup attempt. 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 the minister, 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.

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