500 victims of Turkish gov’t’s post-coup witch hunt over Gülen links back to public jobs

A total of 500 dismissed civil servants who were investigated over alleged links to the Gülen movement were reinstated to their public sector jobs in the last month, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said on Tuesday.

After victims of a massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement started to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to set up the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) on January 23, 2017 as an interim mechanism allegedly to reduce grievances arising out of the dismissals process.

“Thanks to the committee’s investigation, 500 people returned to their jobs in one month,” Gül said in an interview with CNN Türk on Monday. “If you declare everyone a FETÖ member, genuine members of the group will have a chance to get away with crimes. We have seen some malicious people defaming others for their own interest and for the purpose of harming Turkey’s legal struggle against the group. For instance, police raid the house or workplace of a person openly and even if he or she is acquitted, they remain tainted by this crime they did not commit.”

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling AKP government led by President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

Gül added that they had not initiated formal criminal probes for 15,000 people since September after initial investigations found no links to the group. “It was obvious that they were defamed,” the minister said.

According to reports in the pro-government media, the OHAL Commission rejected 16,600 appeals while agreeing to investigate 1,100 cases. If the committee approves a petition, the case is then taken back to the relevant courts and the plaintiffs can take their cases to the Supreme Court of Appeals or the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the reinstatement of their public sector jobs.

Government officials say that so far 108,905 cases have been brought before the commission. Speaking to the state-run Anadolu news agency on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ claimed the commission meticulously worked on each case and that it takes time to investigate if the allegations against the suspects are false. “They collect information about these people from the public agencies they work with, and they look into criminal cases against them. Any rush to judgment would harm the cases,” he said.

In an attempt to dampen outcry from domestic and international organizations over rights violations and arbitrariness, the OHAL Commission began accepting applications on July 17, 2017 from former public employees suspended from their jobs. The application period ended on September 14, 2017. However, the commission led by the openly Erdoğanist deputy undersecretary of the Justice Ministry, Selahaddin Menteş, has been widely criticised for bias.

The commission has seven members, three of whom were appointed by the prime minister, one by the Justice Ministry, one by the Interior Ministry and two by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). A total of 190 personnel, 28 judges, 30 inspectors and 40 experts are working for the commission.

The commission can demand any information and documents from public institutions and judicial authorities except for documents subject to confidentiality as part of ongoing investigations or otherwise classified state secrets. Public institutions and judicial authorities are obliged to immediately provide the requested information to the commission and facilitate any inquiries.

Critics say the OHAL Commission is solely aimed at reducing the number of applications to the ECtHR. However, 22,000 teachers from private schools whose licenses have been canceled by the statutory decree are not eligible to apply to the commission. Likewise, judges and prosecutors have not been suspended by the lists attached to the government decrees but were dismissed in decisions taken by the relevant authorities responsible for the institutions in which they served.

The ECtHR’s requirement of the “exhaustion of domestic remedies” in order to accept applications forced the Turkish government to form the OHAL Commission as a kind of formality. With the establishment of the OHAL Commission, ECtHR decisions for compensation and such have been prevented. According to complaints, the government structured the commission to work as slowly as possible, in the process blunting the reactions of victims.

Moreover, under a regulation governing the return of dismissed personnel, vested rights have not been reinstated. The government’s placement of victims in institutions can be considered exile rather than reinstatement to their jobs. It is very likely that the OHAL Commission will make a positive decision about mistakenly dismissed government supporters and that only they will be returned to their jobs.

In the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, 26 decree laws (KHK) have been issued under the emergency rule declared on July 20, 2016. So far 114, 961 public servants have been dismissed from their jobs under these KHKs, while 32,180 officials were “struck off.”

To date, 47 private health institutions, 881 private educational institutions, 108 private student dormitories, 104 foundations, 1,409 associations, 19 trade unions, 15 private universities, five news agencies, 17 TV channels, 22 radio stations, 46 newspapers, 20 journals and 29 publishing houses/distribution companies have been closed down.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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