Erkan Akıllı, 47, a teacher who was convicted on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, died on Wednesday, a few hours after crossing into Greece via the Evros River, the Bold Medya news website reported.
After walking for two hours, Akıllı told the group he was travelling with that he was tired and wanted to rest. “You go, I’ll catch up,” he reportedly said. His family learned about Akıllı’s death after Turkish gendarmes asked them to identify his remains prior to an autopsy.
The cause of his death is still unknown.
Since 2016 Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people suspected to have links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. In order to avoid the government-led crackdown, thousands of Gülen followers have fled Turkey and taken refuge in European and other countries.
Akıllı was the director of an exam prep center affiliated with the Gülen movement. He was sentenced to six years, three months in prison for membership in a terrorist organization. He was released from prison due to health problems and was scheduled to go back to serve his sentence after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institutions linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines were accepted as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged members of the movement.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in February 2021, a total of 622,646 people have been the subject of investigation and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the movement.