Mass detention of Gülen followers over donations sparks condemnation and anger

Politicians and human rights activists from Turkey and around the world have expressed anger, disappointment and condemnation over the mass detention of people affiliated with the Gülen movement in Turkey for accepting assistance from other Gülen followers or for distributing donations from Gülen members overseas to the families of people jailed by the Turkish government or purged from their jobs over links to the movement.

Turkish police teams had as of Wednesday detained 599 people out of 704 for whom detention warrants were issued as part of an investigation into the financial activities of followers of the Gülen movement.

The Turkish government accuses the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on Tuesday that 543 of the 704 people facing detention had been taken into custody as part the Gazi Turgut Aslan Operation, in simultaneous raids across 59 provinces.

The number of detainees had risen to 599 by Wednesday, including 244 women. According to the Turkish media, among those detained are mothers with infants and chronically ill and elderly people.

The detentions triggered reactions from international and Turkish politicians, lawyers and human rights advocates.

“The mass persecution in Turkey continues,” tweeted former Green member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms, adding, “The sheer number of these detentions is terrifying. Five Hundred Forty-Three in one day! That the food donations to families of incarcerated people are allegedly a reason for detention is insane. … Turkey, no rule of law.”

 

Several US politicians also condemned the crackdown on the Gülen movement, pointing out that NATO member Turkey makes decisions that are incompatible with human rights and calling on Turkish authorities to release political prisoners.

Congressman Eric Swalwell called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release political prisoners in a tweet, citing the Stockholm Center for Freedom. “I strongly condemn the mass arrests of Gülen followers in #Turkey. No one should be persecuted for their political beliefs. I am calling on President Erdogan to release these political prisoners. As a NATO ally, Turkey must uphold its commitment to human rights and democracy,” Swalwell said.

 

“I am disheartened to hear of the mass detentions of Gülen followers in Turkey. I condemn this type of political persecution & urge Turkey to immediately release these political dissidents. Turkey needs to starting acting like a NATO ally and must cease this political persecution,” Representative Brian Fitzpatrick tweeted.

“I am disturbed by reports that hundreds of people have been arrested in #Turkey today in another reprehensible crackdown on free speech. The government also has criminalized ‘disinformation.’ These assaults on free expression and political opinion in Turkey must end,” Member of Congress Mario Díaz-Balart tweeted, referring to a new law that criminalizes the sharing of information under the pretext of battling “fake news.”

 

Tushar Gandhi, the Indian author and great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was among those who condemned the crackdown on the Gülen movement, citing the Stockholm Center for Freedom and tweeting: “The persecution by the Turkish regime of followers of Gülen must stop. The world must support the right of choice of the people, especially NATO countries self proclaimed protectors of freedom. Act against the authoritarian President Erdogan.”

A number of Turkish politicians also expressed outrage, including Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker and human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who voiced concern for those affected by the operation in a tweet on Tuesday.

“We have pain in our hearts for the young people who have died by suicide because of this oppression. They are trying to break the hands of those who want to help people who might take their own lives! This is a crime against humanity, they are shredding the last bits of their humanity! The genocide continues, this is an operation against humanity,” Gergerlioğlu tweeted.

The former legal adviser to President Erdoğan, attorney İzzet Özgenç, explained the legal position on the detentions. He stated that the operation has no legal standing under Turkish constitutional law.

“Regardless of the crime a person has been convicted of, whether he or she is serving his or her sentence in a penal institution or outside the penal institution, financially helping a convict, his or her family or relatives in meeting their needs is not an illegal act and never constitutes a crime,” Özgenç tweeted.

 

Thousands of Twitter users, including human rights defenders and organizations, also commented on the arrests under the hashtag #KHKlılaraYardımaOperasyon (Operation against the Purge Victims) in solidarity with the people who were detained for helping purge victims and their families.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Victims of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown say they and their families experience severe financial and psychological problems due to what they call hate speech employed by the government and its supporters against them, which prevents them from leading normal lives, finding jobs and supporting their families.

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.

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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