Report: Families in Turkey live in fear and isolation as Erdoğan leads a witch hunt

The Guardian, a British newspaper, has covered the witch hunt conducted by Erdoğan regime in Turkey against critical segments of the society and wrote that those who have expressed even the slightest sympathy with the views of the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have found themselves accused of coup plotting.

The Guardian has also written that the crackdown on possible coup plotters has since been turned into an all-out witch-hunt not only against alleged Gülen sympathizers but also leftists, Kurds and anyone critical of the government.

Since the coup attempt, more than 135,000 people have been dismissed from state jobs, and more than 45,000 are in jail on terrorism charges, including military personnel and police officers, but also large numbers of journalists, academics and civil servants. Erdoğan has repeatedly vowed to “root out” the entire Gülen network and threatened to reinstate the death penalty and “let the people take revenge”. The president, who wants to turn Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one via popular referendum, is using the coup attempt as an excuse to rid himself of all unwanted critics, the Guardian reported.

Two teachers and a law student describe how this has affected them for the Guardian. Some excerpts from the report as follow:

On 1 September, the life of Ahmet and Fatma Özer, married teachers from Istanbul, changed dramatically. Accused of being sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, both were fired. On the same day Ayse Yilmaz, a law student, received a text informing her that her father, a civil servant, had been detained for alleged involvement in terrorism and coup plotting. “It was the day we were blacklisted,” Fatma recalls. “The day we were erased as citizens.”

“Many people have been dismissed not because they misused their positions, but because of their opposition to the AKP and Erdoğan,” says Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International. “If the state wants to bring proceedings against people, they need to do so based on individualized proof. But what we are seeing are blanket accusations against which people are unable to appeal.”

Ahmet Özer agrees. “I am not sure what we are accused of exactly,” he says. He has been teaching for over a decade. Neither he nor his wife received an official notice, a justification or a court order. Instead, they learned of their dismissal via the internet. “Our names were published in the official gazette. That was all,” Özer said. Both had been suspended earlier in August. “We have no means to defend ourselves, but since our names are now associated with terrorism and coup plotting we are blacklisted.” His wife underlines that they opposed the coup and had never been politically active. The sudden lack of income has landed the Özer family in dire straits. Ahmet used to be a popular tutor, but parents are no longer willing to have their children taught by a “terrorist”. Others are too scared to employ him, lest they will be seen as sympathizers. No school will hire him. He has been looking for day work in factories and textile workshops to earn at least a little money, so far unsuccessfully.

“Each time the people there ask: ‘Why did you quit your teaching job?’”, he explains. “And since my name is on a publicly accessible list it is no use to lie. So far I have not been able to find any work.”

Gardner underlines that being fired via decree does not only mean the loss of a job, but potentially loss of opportunity to work altogether. “Due to the decrees, fired police officers are banned from working in private security. Sacked judges and prosecutors are banned from practizing as private lawyers.” Companies are scared to hire alleged Gülen supporters.

The Özers know they are comparatively lucky. Their parents have been able to help them out financially, at least for a little while. But that money is not safe either. “It is possible that the government freezes our assets at any moment,” Ahmet says. The couple now only use cash, too scared to put money into their bank account, lest it is confiscated without warning. This has happened to others, they say. The judges and prosecutors’ union has opened a donation account for members whose assets and bank accounts were seized overnight, leaving entire families penniless. “Hungry judges, imagine that,” Fatma whispers. “But that, too, is now reality in Turkey.”

For those dismissed or arrested on charges of being a member of the Gülenist network, lawyers are hard to come by. Many, including legal aid lawyers, refuse to take up their cases, either because of revanchist sentiments or because it seems too dangerous to defend the government’s sworn enemies in the current atmosphere. Some have reported threats for taking on these cases. Other lawyers that do take up their cases work for what one human rights activist described as “astronomical fees”. The Özer family is unable to afford such legal assistance. “There is a real black market now,” says Ahmet. “Those lawyers ask hundreds of thousands of lira; it’s impossible for us.”

“Every time a new emergency decree is published I panic,” she says. “Each time the doorbell rings I fear that it might be the police that have come to take my mother, too.” Yilmaz says all her family knows is that a secret witness has claimed her father belonged to the Gülen network. “But prosecutors tell those accused to give up names in order to get out of jail. My father was told that he would not get out of jail if he did not give them some names. People turn into informants to save themselves.”

Yilmaz, a successful law student, says that her trust in the Turkish justice system has all but vanished. “My beliefs and my idealism are gone,” she says. “This is a reign of fear, not justice.” She adds that she wants to go abroad to live and work there. “I do not want to serve a country that treats its citizens this way.”

“The government does not treat us as equal citizens of this country,” Fatma says, “It feels like they want us all just to disappear. I feel like I have been buried alive.”

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect. The movement has also categorically denied any involvement into coup attempt.

Over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt.  89,775 people were being held without charge, with an additional 43,885 in pre-trial detention as of Feb. 1 due to their alleged links to the movement.

See the full text of the Guardian story here.

Feb. 13, 2017

Take a second to support SCF on Patreon!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.