Turkish court rules for continuation of 86-year-old philanthropist Afşar’s imprisonment over Gülen links

A Turkish court ruled on Wednesday for the continuation of 86-year-old Turkish philanthropist Celal Afşar’s imprisonment over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

The first hearing in the trial of Afşar, who was arrested in July 2018 along with his daughter, son-in-law and two others in Niğde province as part of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement, was held at the Niğde 2nd High Criminal Court.

Afşar is known as a philanthropist in his hometown, with public broadcaster TRT in 2011 depicting his life as an example of dedication to charity. Afşar was accused of providing financial support to a “terrorist organization.”

Afşar said during his defense in court that “I did not escape from the law. I had to take care of my sick and bedridden wife.” He also said: “I went to the US several times after 1990. We twice had mass religious meetings with [Fethullah] Gülen. I went to the US the last time four years ago. I also welcomed some guests from the US at a [private] school [affiliated with the Gülen movement]. But I do not know the duties of the people who visited.”

Asked by the judges whether he was visited by mayors and bureaucrats when they started working in Niğde province, Afşar said: “Yes, they visited me to get my blessing. Everyone in Niğde province usually visited me because everyone knows me in Niğde.” Afşar also said he did not use the TL 900,000 in his personal account in Bank Asya upon any kind of instruction.

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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