Police probe exiled journalist’s aid to victim of crackdown diagnosed with brain tumor

Turkish police are following money sent by exiled journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan to Haşim Söylemez, a Turkish investigative journalist who was jailed and released after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, as part of a criminal investigation, the Turkish Minute reported, citing the TR724 news website.

In 2019 Söylemez, who was working for the now-closed Aksiyon magazine, was sentenced to six years, three months in prison by the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on charges of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government accuse of instigating a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013, implicating the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-prime minister Erdoğan as well as orchestrating a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The Turkish government designates the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, as a terrorist organization. The movement denies the coup accusations and involvement in any terrorist activity.

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.

Söylemez was arrested by a court immediately after the abortive putsch as part of a post-coup crackdown targeting the Gülen movement and was later released pending trial for reasons of health, as he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent six operations to remove the tumor and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Arslan is among dozens of journalists living in exile accused of links to the Gülen movement. In the last few years, he has made a number of wire transfers to Söylemez’s nephew Hamza Söylemez to help his colleague, who is in dire straits due to the loss of his job and his deteriorating health.

Highlighting the relentless nature of the Turkish government’s crackdown on non-loyalist citizens, the six wire transfers, of which the largest was some $1,000, sent by Arslan to help Söylemez between 2018 and 2022 were deemed suspicious activity and documented by the Turkish police’s counterterrorism unit.

“The government closed down Söylemez’s magazine and left him unemployed. They imprisoned him and targeted him with hate speech. Amid all this he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And now, they are investigating the little help I provide for him as a colleague. It is callous,” Arslan told Turkish Minute.

Arslan also alluded to detentions that took place last week in Turkey, as the police had as of Wednesday taken 599 people into custody 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 mass detention of people affiliated with the movement 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 has drawn condemnation from politicians and human rights activists.

“This is genocidal. They want to condemn to penury people who lost their jobs and means of subsistence due to the government crackdown, whose relatives are in jail and who are sick and vulnerable,” Arslan said.

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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