Turkey detains 543 people in massive operation targeting Gülen followers

Turkish police have detained 543 people out of 704 named in detention warrants as part of an investigation into the financial activities of followers of the Gülen movement, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported, citing the country’s interior minister.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on Tuesday that 543 of the 704 people facing detention have been taken into custody as part the Gazi Turgut Aslan Operation, in simultaneous raids across 59 provinces.

The Turkish government accuses the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Soylu said the detentions began Tuesday morning following an eight-month investigation focusing on the financial activities of the alleged Gülen movement followers. He said the operation was carried out by the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (KOM), the Counterterrorism Bureau (TEM) and the Cybercrime Department in coordination with the Security General Directorate’s intelligence unit and the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK).

The suspects are accused of either receiving financial assistance or distributing financial assistance sent by Gülen followers abroad to the families of people jailed over links to the Gülen movement or removed from public service for the same reason.

“This money traffic, which has been going on for about eight months through both the mail and ATMs and through people who don’t know each other, originated exclusively from abroad,” Soylu said, adding that the investigation has been carried out in utmost secrecy.

“We needed [the suspects’] technical devices, especially mobile phones,” he said.

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.

Victims of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown say they and their families experience severe financial and psychological problems due to what they call hate speech employed by the government and its supporters against them, which prevents them from leading normal lives, finding jobs and supporting their families.

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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