Turkish gov’t detains 16 colonels over alleged links to Gülen movement

The Turkish government on Wednesday detained 16 colonels on active duty at the Turkish Air Forces Command and the Turkish Naval Forces Command as part of its massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.

In an Ankara-based investigation police detained 18 military officers, including 16 active duty colonels at the Air Forces Command, in eight provinces across Turkey on Wednesday following the issuance of detention warrants  by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for 25 people, 16 colonels and nine lieutenant colonels, over alleged links to the Gülen movement. They were accused of having used the ByLock mobile phone messaging app. 

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Also on Wednesday, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants for 10 staff members of the Turkish Naval Forces Command over alleged links to the Gülen movement. Nine of those sought were reportedly detained.

In Karaman province, police detained 10 women on Wednesday on detention warrants issued for 13 women over alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

Meanwhile, a Turkish court handed down life sentences to three military officers on Wednesday due to their alleged affiliation with the movement. Brigadier commander Hasan Polat, regiment commander Col. Etem Metehan Yaşar and commander Col. Kadir Ayhan were given aggravated life sentences by the Hatay 2nd High Criminal Court for an alleged “attempt to overthrow the constitutional order.”

Twenty-seven other military officers were also given jail terms ranging from three to 16 years. Ten military officers were acquitted by the court.

Moreover, a former top Turkish jurist was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Tuesday over his alleged links to the Gülen movement. The Ankara 21st High Criminal Court also ordered the continued detention of Mehmet Oğuz Kaya, the former secretary-general of the Constitutional Court.

Turkey survived coup attempt 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 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 more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.

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