According to Human Rights Watch, the largest group targeted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan consists of people alleged to have links to the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas and activism of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim cleric.
During the year Erdoğan continued to relentlessly pursue anyone with alleged links with the movement. They have been targets of hate speech, hate crimes, unlawful prosecution, torture, and abductions among other serious human rights violations.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and 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 locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation.
Some of the claims that were part of the corruption investigations were later substantiated in New York federal court where Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was sentenced to 32 months for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran and other offenses.
Erdoğan 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.
Following the failed coup, the Turkish government carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 20,610 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.
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 the Turkish interior minister, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup.
In an opinion published in September, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law of individuals with alleged links to the Gülen movement may constitute crimes against humanity.
Here is some of the most important news from 2020 concerning Erdoğan’s crackdown on the Gülen movement:
Discrimination and hate speech
Erdoğan said Gülen movement supporters have no property rights
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said at a press conference in December that supporters of the Gülen movement have no right to own property. More..
Erdoğan’s comments reflected the policies implemented by Turkish government agencies since he started targeting the movement in 2013. In October, Nordic Monitor revealed a circular that showed how Turkey’s Land Registry and Cadastre Directorate General bypassed the judiciary to seize the assets of alleged members of the Gülen movement. More..
In June Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry seized the house of an 87-year-old woman in the western province of Manisa because she donated it to a foundation linked to the Gülen movement. More..
Academic said Gülen movement followers should be sent to rehabilitation camps
Communications professor Muttalip Kutluk Özgüven said in a June interview on the pro-government Akit TV that members of the Gülen movement should be sent to rehabilitation camps and subjected to psychological treatment.
“This fight cannot be carried out only with law enforcement measures. We need to establish rehabilitation camps,” said Özgüven. “Their bodies do not belong to them. They have to serve Turkey’s interests.” More..
Special needs school forced disabled girl to leave due to father’s links to Gülen movement
A young girl with major disabilities was forced to leave a public special needs school because her father used to work for an institution that was shut down by a government decree for its affiliation with the Gülen movement. More..
In a similar development, financial assistance paid by the Turkish government to the family of Nurbanu Aydın, a 29-year-old “spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy” patient, was cut off after her father, Muammer Aydın, was arrested on terrorism charges over his links to the Gülen movement. More..
Purged public servants continued to face discrimination
Turkish banks continued to deny basic services to civil servants summarily fired by the Turkish government in the aftermath of an abortive putsch in July 2016. Levent Mazılıgüney, a dismissed public servant, said his credit card application to VakıfBank was denied despite the fact that he is a registered lawyer and his credit score is 1,860 out of 1,900. More..
Purged public servants and members of the armed forces continued to be subjected to various kinds of discrimination throughout the year. A dismissed civil servant was deemed ineligible by Turkey’s Ministry of Treasury and Finance to benefit from a real estate tax break granted to people who have no income. More..
Nebi Toylak, a former public school teacher summarily fired by the Turkish government in the aftermath of an abortive putsch in July 2016, was not allowed to attend a vocational course organized by the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) because he was a dismissed public servant. More..
A former public servant identified only by the initials A.B., 28, said he was not awarded his certificate by the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services despite scoring the second highest in a nationwide certification examination because he was dismissed from his previous job by a government decree. More..
OHAL Commission continued to draw criticism
The State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission), had made decisions on 112,310 of a total of 126,630 applications as of December 31, 2020. It ruled in favor of the applicants in only 13,170 of the cases.
The commission was established as an appeals body under pressure from the Council of Europe in order to relieve the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of a huge workload emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who were unable to take their cases to Turkish courts. According to critics, the commission’s role is simply to delay or prevent possible ECtHR decisions against Turkey. The commission is also accused of bias as it is led by former Justice Ministry deputy undersecretary Selahaddin Menteş, who had been openly supportive of President Erdoğan.
In its Turkey 2020 report, the European Commission (EC) raised serious concerns about the ability of the commission to provide an effective remedy to dismissals. The report criticized the lengthy review procedures and underlined that the applicants did not have a proper means of defense as the commission does not hold hearings. The EC also said the commission did not have sufficiently individualized criteria to evaluate the applications.
Individuals with disabilities convicted on terror charges for alleged links to Gülen movement
A young woman was sentenced to six years, three months’ imprisonment in November for alleged membership in a terrorist organization, despite the paralysis of her hands and feet from birth. Fatma Cömert was diagnosed as almost totally disabled and lived her entire life in a wheelchair, unable to leave her home without assistance. However, she has been struggling with court cases for the last 18 months, and if the Supreme Court of Appeals upholds her sentence she will be arrested. More..
Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a conviction and sentence on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization handed down to Bilal Konakçı, a bomb disposal expert with the police who lost his hand and was blinded in an explosion. He was sentenced to seven years, six months by a local court. More..
Torture and inhuman treatment
Content of censored Council of Europe torture report revealed horrific details of post-coup crackdown
Brutally tortured, robbed of his property and livelihood, imprisoned and his family stigmatized, Col. Cemil Turhan and his story represent the epitome of suffering caused by human rights abuses committed on a massive scale in post-coup Turkey. He was one of the victims who gave a statement to visiting members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body. Turkey blocked the publication of the report. More..
Female students strip-searched, denied right to consult lawyer
Female students detained by Turkish police over alleged links to the Gülen movement were subjected to a strip-search and interrogated without a lawyer present. More..
Turkey dropped investigation into demise of teacher who was tortured to death
The İstanbul chief public prosecutor has decided to drop an investigation into the death of Gökhan Açıkkolu, a teacher who died after enduring 13 days of torture and abuse in police custody in İstanbul. More..
Couple subjected to electroshock, beatings, inhumane treatment at Turkish detention center
Müberra and Murat Boşcu, who were detained on October 17, 2016, were subjected to torture including electroshocks, beatings and strip-searches as well as inhumane treatment during their 14-day detention, according to Müberra Boşcu. More..
Torturers threatened me with sexually assaulting my daughter, former teacher said
Police officers threatened me with sexually assaulting my daughter, who was brought with my wife for interrogation, said Mehmet Eren when talking about the brutal torture and inhuman treatment he was subjected to at the Afyon Police Department. More..
Police chief nicknamed ‘Angel of Death’ who ran torture sites in Turkey unmasked in court testimony
A Turkish police chief with the self-proclaimed nickname of Azrael, or the Angel of Death, oversaw two unofficial torture sites with nearly 2,000 people subjected to brutal treatment in 2016, multiple victim statements in court revealed. More..
Female officer raped in detention by Turkish police had to abort pregnancy
A female officer who had served in the Turkish army had to have an abortion after she was raped in police custody, Lt. Abdulvahap Berke told a panel of judges in an Ankara court. More..
I heard screams of women being raped at a Turkish detention center, said torture victim
Erhan Doğan, who was tortured at a gymnasium-turned-detention center in Turkey, recounted for the first time the torture he underwent and witnessed. “The police who tortured me threatened to bring my daughter and my wife and rape them if I did not say what they wanted. I no longer cared about the torture I underwent that night,” Doğan said.
“It took about 45 minutes. Then they took me away, but the torture of the women in the next room continued. Judging from their cries and screams, I am absolutely sure they were raped.” More..
Doctor who witnessed torture in Turkish mass detention center spoke out
A medical doctor who was assigned to conduct physical examinations in a gymnasium-turned-mass detention center following a failed coup in Turkey in 2016 spoke for the first time about the torture he witnessed and recorded there to the Bold Medya news website in an interview with exiled journalist Cevheri Güven. More..
Erdoğan’s long arm and the global witch hunt
Turkish diplomatic missions spied on individuals affiliated with the Gülen movement
Court documents revealed that Turkish diplomatic missions around the world systematically spied on individuals allegedly linked to the Gülen movement. According to a report by Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, 15 Canadian citizens – including academics, journalists, real estate agents and a part-time taxi driver – were named as suspects in a Turkish “terrorism” investigation for supposed criminal activities such as writing or promoting articles supportive of Fethullah Gülen or downloading the ByLock messaging app.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu confirmed systematic spying on Turkish government critics on foreign soil by Turkish diplomatic missions in February 2020. Çavuşoğlu said Turkish diplomats assigned to embassies and consulates have officially been instructed by the government to conduct such activities abroad. “If you look at the definition of a diplomat, it is clear. … Intelligence gathering is the duty of diplomats,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish journalists on February 16, 2020 following the Munich Security Conference, adding, “Intelligence gathering and information collection are a fact.”
According to court documents, alleged supporters of the Gülen movement were spied on by the Turkish diplomatic missions in the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Bulgaria, Norway, Georgia, Sweden, North Macedonia, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Turkey signed secret agreements to abduct dissidents from foreign countries: UN letter
The Turkish government signed bilateral security cooperation agreements with multiple states that were phrased ambiguously to allow for the expulsion or abduction of Turkish nationals living abroad, a joint UN letter underlined. More..
Widespread or systematic imprisonment of individuals with alleged links to Gülen movement may constitute crimes against humanity: United Nations
Widespread or systematic imprisonment of individuals with alleged links to the Gülen movement may constitute crimes against humanity, said the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), in an opinion on the summary extradition of Arif Komiş, 44, Ülkü Komiş, 38, and their four children from Malaysia to Turkey in August 2019. More..
In a similar case, WGAD concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of six Turkish teachers by Kosovar and Turkish state agents in Kosovo on March 29, 2018 was arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards. More..
Turkish intelligence agency MIT’s secret rendition flight and black torture site exposed
Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) operated a secret rendition flight and initiated a torture session on the spy plane when it abducted a critic of President Erdoğan from Kazakhstan and later subjected the victim to further torture and abuse at a black site near the airport in Ankara, court documents revealed. More..
In Turkey, under normal conditions, the Law on Public Servants requires that disciplinary actions, including dismissal from public service, be recommended by a committee after hearing the employee’s defense. The decision must then be approved by a higher body within the relevant institution and can be challenged in the administrative court system.
But during the state of emergency, public servants were not even informed of accusations against them and were never asked to submit their defenses. Following the end of the state of emergency, a similar regime was created with a temporary law that would be in effect for 36 months, until July 2021. According to this law, officials suspected of membership in or affiliation with entities deemed a threat to national security can be dismissed by the ministers upon the proposal of a disciplinary commission. Since the decisions are not published in the Official Gazette, the full number of summary dismissals during the year is unknown.
20,571 military personnel summarily dismissed from Turkish Armed Forces over alleged Gülen links
A total of 20,571 military personnel have been summarily dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Maj. Pınar Kara, press and
public relations officer at Turkey’s Defense Ministry, at a press conference in November. More..
601 military personnel faced dismissal by administrative procedure despite non-prosecution on terrorism charges
Operations against TSK personnel continued throughout the year. In October, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sent the files on 601 military personnel who can’t be prosecuted on terrorism charges due to a lack of evidence to the relevant military commands in order to start the administrative process for their dismissal. More..
New ‘research center’ a dead end for purged diplomats reinstated by the courts
Career diplomats who were purged from the Foreign Ministry by the Turkish government and subsequently reinstated by the courts will be employed at a research center if the foreign minister declines to reappoint them to their former positions, according to a regulation published in Turkey’s Official Gazette in July. The law does not provide any objective criteria as to when a diplomat can be fully reinstated, in essence giving the minister the authority to not fully implement the court decisions. More..
Turkey issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers following Erdoğan’s call to suspend attorneys accused of terrorist links
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in September issued detention warrants for 60 lawyers on terror charges over their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, following a call by President Erdoğan for the suspension of lawyers accused of terrorist links. More..
The detentions attracted widespread international criticism. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), six European law associations and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued statements condemning the move.
Children of the purge: death, disease and separation
Turkey’s post-coup purge made no exception for children
Turkey’s post-coup purge continued to take a huge toll on human life, making no exceptions for children. Mehmet Fatih, Selman, Eymen and Ali İhsan all developed cancer after their fathers were arrested. Mehmet Akif’s leukemia, from which he had recovered, reappeared when his father was arrested. Receiving dialysis three times a week, Azra Nur’s condition is getting worse by the day. There are also those who were unable to cling to life and succumbed to their illnesses. More..
Death of 8-year-old Ahmet Burhan Ataç revealed plight of children caught up in Turkey’s massive purge
The terrible ordeal of an 8-year-old boy who lost his life to cancer while his father was jailed and his mother tried on fabricated charges illustrates the gravity and extent of blatant violations of fundamental human rights in Turkey.
Ahmet Burhan Ataç, having fought hard to cling to life, finally succumbed to the cancer in the early hours of Thursday, May 7, at Balcalı Hospital in Adana, where he had been taken the evening before. More..
Another child succumbed to cancer without saying goodbye to his jailed father
Seven-year-old Selman Çalışkan succumbed to brain cancer in September without being able to see his father, a teacher jailed on bogus terrorism charges, one last time. Selman was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago. He underwent surgery in June 2019 to remove a five-centimeter tumor and was partially paralyzed after the operation. His father, Rasim Çalışkan, was only allowed to visit his son twice during his illness, once following the surgery and once when Selman’s condition deteriorated. Çalışkan filed numerous requests to delay his sentence or to serve the remainder under house arrest, but his petitions were all rejected. More..
In July six-year-old Mehmet Erdoğan, whose father is in prison for alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in an Ankara hospital without being able to see his father one last time. Mehmet had undergone surgery for the removal of a cyst in his arm and died unexpectedly due to complications caused by the general anesthesia. A public prosecutor did not allow him to visit his son before the surgery. More..
Girl with Down syndrome left with teenage sister after parents detained for helping refugees
A seven-year-old girl with Down syndrome was left to the care of her teenage sister after her parents, Dudu Karataş (42) and Gökay Karataş (48), were detained on September 8 for helping refugees. The couple was taken into custody for helping Afghan refugees; however, during their interrogation they were asked if they were aiding members of the Gülen movement. More..
Photographs of deputy police inspector who died in prison quarantine show criminal neglect
Photos of former deputy policy inspector Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu, 44, who died in a quarantine cell in prison on August 29, were revealed, shedding light on the unsanitary conditions in which he was forced to live.
In the photographs Kabakçıoğlu’s lifeless body is seen in a chair in a sitting position, his head drooping back and his nails turned blue. The conditions of his prison cell were also photographed, revealing damp and filthy quarters and dirt on his T-shirt. It was obvious he used the trash bin as a dinner table and did not eat his last meal, seen in the photos untouched on top of the bin. More..
Turkish purge victim, rights activist lost battle against cancer
Haluk Savaş, 54, a leading human rights activist and a victim of a large-scale post-coup purge in Turkey, lost his battle against cancer in June. Savaş was a psychiatry professor at Gaziantep University until he was fired by a government decree in 2016 following a coup attempt. He was later arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement.
In November 2016 he was released pending trial due to a cancer diagnosis, and after one year of treatment he was cured. However, the cancer returned in early 2019. For months he struggled to obtain a passport, despite later being acquitted by a court, to travel abroad in search of a treatment for the cancer. More..
Decorated officer not released by court despite health report died in prison
Mustafa Barış Avıalan, a former staff colonel sentenced to life imprisonment on coup charges, died in prison after a court denied his release despite health reports stating that his sentence needed to be postponed for six months. More..
Air force cadet sentenced to life in prison succumbed to bone cancer
Yusuf Kurt, 25, a former air force cadet sentenced to life in prison on coup charges succumbed to bone cancer in November in Eskişehir. Kurt was among 70 air force cadets sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order by means of a coup attempt in July 2016. More..
Other victims of the Turkish government’s relentless crackdown on the Gülen movement who passed away in 2020 include:
Gülhan Çolakoğlu, 45, a cancer patient who was unable to receive treatment abroad after Turkish authorities refused to issue her a passport;
Medeni Arifoğlu, a Turkish businessman who was jailed over alleged links to the Gülen movement, succumbed to cancer after he was belatedly released from prison despite his deteriorating health;
Ömer Günerigök, 31, a teacher who was purged from his job and prosecuted by the authorities over Gülen links, succumbed to cancer;
Caner Durukan, 42, a Turkish healthcare worker dismissed from his job in the post-coup purge, died of cancer;
Ümit Gökhasan, a former police superintendent who was not released from prison until his cancer had spread to other parts of his body;
Sevdegül Güler, a bedridden woman whose mother was denied a care allowance by Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Policies due to her alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement;
Cengiz Karakurt, 41, a teacher arrested for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, declared brain dead after passing out in his prison cell;
Yusuf Uzun, 36, a teacher dismissed from his job during the post-coup purge, lost his battle with cancer after his belated release from prison;
Ahmet Kaplan, 48, a purged police officer suffering from stage-four lung cancer who died alone in a prison infirmary; and
Hüseyin Özen, 59, an inmate imprisoned for alleged ties to the Gülen movement who passed away due to COVID-19.
A year into his disappearance, authorities kept quiet about the fate of Yusuf Bilge Tunç
Turkish authorities continued to maintain their silence about the fate of Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who went missing in broad daylight on August 6, 2019, leaving no trace behind. He has not been heard from since. All the efforts of his family and human rights defenders to find out what happened to him have proven to be of no avail. More..
Another man testified about torture by security officers during enforced disappearance
Yasin Ugan, who had been missing for six months before suddenly reappearing in police custody, revealed in court that he was tortured by security officers. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a rights activist and a member of parliament, said Ugan had been tortured for six months after being kidnapped on February 13, 2019, with his head covered with a black plastic bag most of the time.
Ugan also said he was only allowed to take three showers during the time he was missing, Gergerlioğlu said. Ugan, a former civil servant fired from his job by the government in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt, appeared in court on in June over his alleged membership in the Gülen movement. More..
Arrest of pregnant women and mothers with infants
Turkish courts continued to arrest pregnant women despite regulations
Three pregnant women were arrested in June in Ankara and Manisa on terrorism-related charges on the grounds that they were members of the faith-based Gülen movement, a dissident group that has long been targeted by the government of President Erdoğan. More..
Zeynep Doğan (33), who was seven months pregnant, and her husband Ahmet Doğan (39) were detained in October and were forced to leave their three children under the age of nine behind. More..
Turkish authorities continued to detain and arrest mothers with babies
Suna Aras, the mother of a 9-month-old baby, was sent to prison in October in contravention of the law on the execution of sentences that requires the postponement of the execution of prison sentences for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half. More..
In June, Yasemin Çetinkaya, a mother of two, was infected with COVID-19 while in detention in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, one of a growing number of Turkish women either pregnant or with young children who are detained or arrested in contravention of the law on the execution of sentences. More..
Sultan and İbrahim Ataş, the parents of a 14-month-old-toddler and a 3-year-old girl, were arrested in September despite legal provisions that require postponement of the execution of prison sentences for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half. More..
In December Betül Uluşam, 34, was detained at the hospital where she had given birth less than 24 hours after the delivery for alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. More..
Pregnant woman subjected to sexual harassment and insults by prosecutor during interrogation
Nigar Kocabaş, a pregnant woman who in 2016 was interrogated by Chief Public Prosecutor İbrahim Keskin in the northern Turkish city of Samsun for affiliation with the Gülen movement, claimed she was verbally sexually harassed by the prosecutor. More..
Ailing prisoners denied proper care
Gov’t releases critically ill prisoners only when they realize they’ll die soon
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has depicted the deaths of critically ill prisoners in Turkey who are not released in time to receive proper medical treatment as acts of “murder” committed by the state. “They refuse to release the prisoners until it gets to the point of no return. They only release the prisoners when they realize they will die soon, not wanting them to die in prison,” he said. More..
Cancer patient was refused postponement of sentence, sent back to prison after major surgery
Ümit Gökhasan, a cancer patient imprisoned on alleged links to the Gülen movement, whose stomach and half of his esophagus were removed in an operation, was sent back to prison after a medical report found that he could survive in prison and that there was no need to postpone his sentence. More..
Turkey’s top court denied release of former colonel suffering from advanced stage MS
Mustafa Özcan Çay, a former staff colonel convicted on coup charges, was denied release from prison by Turkey’s Constitutional Court despite his inability to perform even the most basic tasks such as eating, drinking and using the bathroom without assistance due to advanced stage multiple sclerosis (MS). More..
Turkey’s Constitutional Court denied release request of inmate with brain tumors
Turkey’s top court in September denied the request for release of Lütfi Koç, 46, who was imprisoned on links to the Gülen movement, despite suffering from two brain tumors and a hernia. More..
Son of jailed prosecutor suffering from brain tumor pleaded for father’s release
The son of Sadrettin Sarıkaya, a former specially authorized prosecutor who was arrested on charges of membership in the Gülen movement in 2017, pleaded for the release of his father, who remains in prison despite suffering from a brain tumor and other health problems. More..