Belgian court sentences Turkish man to prison over online threats targeting Gülen followers

A local court in Belgium’s Limburg province has handed down a six-month jail sentence and a 600 euro fine to a 37-year-old Turkish man who threatened followers of the Gülen movement online.

“Come on, traitors, I’m waiting for you,” the man said in threats via Facebook to members of the Vuslat, an association affiliated with Gülen movement supporters in Belgium, posting a picture of himself posing with a firearm, a Turkish flag and some ammunition a day after a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The prison sentence was suspended, although he is required to pay the 600 euros in addition to court costs, the Brussels-based Het Laatste Nieuws reported on March 22.

The Turkish government sees US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen as the main rival of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and blames the scholar for the controversial military coup. The Gülen (aka Hizmet) movement is inspired by Gülen, who advocates science education, interfaith and intercultural dialogue and community contribution.

Gülen has been a vocal critic of the Turkish government and President Erdoğan over massive corruption in the government as well as the aiding and abetting by Turkey of radical groups in Syria. Erdoğan launched unprecedented persecution against Gülen and his followers in December 2013 immediately following a major corruption probe that incriminated Erdoğan’s family members.

The ruling Islamist leaders labeled the movement as “FETÖ,” a terrorist organization, although Gülen, a 75-year-old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather have remained staunchly opposed to any violence, radicalism or terror in the name of religion.

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 other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on March 15, 2018 that at least 402,000 people have been the subject of legal proceedings initiated by the Turkish government over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.” (SCF with

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