Turkish court convicts first German national over controversial coup bid

Turkey for the first time has convicted a German national on charges related to a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, according to reports in the German media on Tuesday.

The reports said that the man, Nejat U., was convicted in July 2017, but his case has only just become public now.

According to the reports, Nejat U. has been in a Turkish prison for more than a year as a result of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup crackdown targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement. Nejat U. was sentenced to nine years, nine months in prison by a Turkish court in July 2017, according to WDR, NDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The 55-year-old is the first confirmed German citizen to be convicted of terrorism for his alleged ties to the Gülen movement. It is unclear why Nejat U.’s imprisonment has only now become public. The German Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the legality of the sentence but said its consulate in İzmir has been looking into the case.

According to the charges seen by media outlets, Nejat U. was accused of belonging to a business association with links to the Gülen movement. In addition, he allegedly had an account at Bank Asya, which was affiliated with the Gülen movement before it was seized and closed by the Turkish government, and his children attended a Gülen movement-affiliated school. Nejat U. denied any involvement in terrorism.

“The Gülen movement has tens of thousands of supporters around the globe and operates businesses, schools and media outlets. Most Gülen-affiliated institutions in Turkey have been shut down or confiscated in the wake of the coup bid. Tens of thousands of suspected Gülen supporters have also been imprisoned or expelled from their jobs,” wrote Deutsche Welle (DW).

Nejat U. reportedly moved from Turkey to Germany to study and lived in the western city of Aachen for many years. His wife is a doctor and he has three children. In 2000, he returned to Turkey and established a business in his hometown that he ran until being detained in April 2017. He reportedly is a German national and had given up Turkish citizenship.

According to relatives, he has a so-called “blue card” that former Turkish nationals can apply for. This gives them privileges in Turkey such as inheritance and a residence permit.

In addition to Nejat U., seven other German nationals were detained in Turkey on charges related to the coup attempt. Three of them possess only German citizenship. None have been convicted.

The detention of German nationals in Turkey has strained relations between Berlin and Ankara. A number of those imprisoned have since been released after the German government applied pressure on Turkish authorities. The issue of detained German nationals is expected to be one of several areas of discussion when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes an official state visit to Germany at the end of September.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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