Anti-Gülenist witch-hunt reaches new levels, with dozens arrested for ‘spreading COVID-19 across Turkey’

The recent arrest of Gülen movement members by police for “spreading COVID-19 across Turkey” reveals how the anti-Gülenist witch-hunt has reached new levels in Turkey.

According to reports, the police on Friday detained 84 members of the movement in operations across 14 provinces for allegedly spreading the coronavirus, providing financial support to the families of people who are behind bars on alleged Gülen links and suspicious communication with each other on the Internet and through online games. The detentions took place as part of an investigation overseen by the Çanakkale Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The public prosecutor’s office in Ankara in a separate investigation ordered detention of 127 people including active duty, retired and dismissed military and police officers over alleged Gülen links. Police conducted operations across 24 provinces to detain the suspects.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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 an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Turkish police detained 35 people on charges of links to the movement in the western province of İzmir. The detentions took place on Thursday following police raids on 39 locations. The detainees include former military officers, doctors, store owners and other civilians who took part in the movement’s religious talk groups.

On Thursday the Samsun Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office also issued detention warrants for 14 people including former military officers. The suspects are accused of communicating with alleged members of the Gülen movement via payphones to avoid detection.

The so-called “payphone investigations” are based on call records. The prosecutors assume that a member of the Gülen movement used the same payphone to call all his contacts consecutively. Based on that assumption, when an alleged member of the movement is found in call records, it is assumed that other numbers called right before or after that call also belong to people with Gülen links. Receiving calls from a payphone periodically is also considered a red flag.

According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government also removed more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs on alleged Gülen links following the coup attempt.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

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