Turkey’s Gendarmerie Command dismisses 223 staff members for alleged Gülen links

Turkey’s Gendarmerie Command yesterday dismissed a total of 223 staff members over alleged links to the Gülen movement as part of what is known as the “payphone investigations,” the Independent’s Turkish edition reported.

Forty of them were officers, 182 were noncommissioned officers and one was a civil servant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish 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. 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.

Following the abortive putsch, 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 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.

The so-called “payphone investigations” are based on call records. The prosecutors assume that a member of the Gülen movement used the same payphone to call all his contacts consecutively. Based on that assumption, when an alleged member of the movement is found in call records, it is assumed that other numbers called right before or after that call also belong to people with Gülen links. Receiving calls from a payphone periodically is also considered a red flag.

The authorities do not have the actual content of the phone calls in question. According to human rights lawyers such call records should not be considered legal evidence. Yet, based on a ruling by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals, Turkish courts accept payphone records as evidence of membership of a terrorist organization.

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.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on February 20, 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 Gülen movement.

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