Top court finds rights violation in terror conviction of teacher in Gülen-linked case

The main building of Turkey's Constitutional Court.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the conviction of a teacher on terrorism charges over his alleged links to the Gülen movement violated his rights, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Kronos news website.

Bilal Celalettin Şaşmaz, who was arrested on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, was sentenced by a local court to more than six years in prison and released pending appeal, Kronos said, adding that the appeals court upheld his sentence.

Şaşmaz then submitted an individual application to the Constitutional Court, which on Friday ruled that his conviction violated his rights to respect for private life and to organize, according to Kronos.

The top court criticized Şaşmaz’s conviction on terrorism charges, saying that it was only made possible by the local court’s “unpredictably expansive interpretation” of the crime the applicant is accused of.

“The court … failed to show that the activities … of the applicant, who couldn’t be shown to have known the ultimate purpose of the organization, were carried out as part of a terrorist organization,” the Constitutional Court said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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. 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 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 24,706 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.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in July that there are currently 19,252 people in Turkey’s prisons who were convicted or jailed on alleged links to the movement.

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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