Erdoğan gov’t witch-hunt targets 118 officers in new crackdown on Gülen movement

As part of a relentless witch-hunt that has been ongoing for years against the Gülen movement, Turkish authorities on Tuesday detained 72 members of the military, the Turkish media reported, citing an announcement by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecutor issued arrest warrants for 118 military personnel, including 98 active duty officers, over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, the announcement said. Following the issuance of the warrants 72 were detained in 35 provinces by the Turkish police or gendarmerie.

The new wave of arrests came after parliament enacted a bill to reduce the number of inmates to mitigate the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded prisons. The legislation, however, explicitly excluded so-called political prisoners, such as politicians, journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights defenders convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted counterterrorism laws.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and began to target adherents of the movement.

Following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding –- an accusation strongly denied by the cleric — he intensified the crackdown on the movement, dismissing some 150,000 civil servants including teachers, doctors, academics, lawyers, journalists, police officers and military personnel by cabinet decree, locking up hundreds of thousands of them and seizing their assets.

According to the Defense Ministry a total of 19,495 military personnel including many flag officers have been purged from the Turkish Armed Forces since the failed 2016 coup over their alleged ties to the movement.

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