Turkish gov’t detains dozens over alleged links to Gülen movement

Arrested officer

The Turkish government detained and jailed dozens of people, including military officers, on Monday as part of a massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.

Twenty-four more military members, including 12 active duty, 10 purged and two suspended, were detained on Monday over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement as part of an investigation launched by the Zonguldak Chief Public  Prosecutor’s Office, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The Turkish gendarmerie detained eight people in the village of Sarıcaali in Edirne province’s İpsala district on Monday as they were trying to flee from Turkey to Greece. It was reported that some of the detainees have outstanding detention warrants issued for them over their alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application.

Turkish authorities believe that 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 a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Also on Monday, an İstanbul court ruled to jail 24 out of 37 people who used to work for the now-closed Işık Publishing, part of Kaynak Holding, to which a trustee was appointed by the government over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement.

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA), police detained 41 people on March 7 following the issuance of detention warrants by İstanbul’s Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Four of them were released and 37 were referred to court, which ruled to imprison 24 of the suspects and release 13 of them under judicial supervision.

In Kırşehir province, a local court also ruled on Monday to jail eight active duty military officers who were detained for alleged links to the Gülen movement. The court decided to free one officer on condition of judicial supervision.

It was also reported that an Ankara prosecutor has been seeking aggravated life sentences for 18 defendants involved in the murder of an anti-putschist Turkish soldier during the controversial military coup attempt in July 2016.

Ömer Halisdemir, who was killed on the night of the failed coup after he shot dead an alleged senior putschist leader, became the symbol of the resistance against the coup bid. Halisdemir shot the reportedly pro-coup Brig. Gen. Semih Terzi in the head after he allegedly attempted to seize control of the Special Forces Command in Ankara. Suspected pro-coup soldiers later were said to have killed Halisdemir.

Prosecutor Mustafa Manga demanded aggravated life sentences for the defendants, who are accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. During the hearing held at the Ankara 14th High Criminal Court, the prosecutor also asked the court to slap defendants Fatih Şahin and Mihrali Atmaca with an extra term of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the intentional killing of Halisdemir.

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 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.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on March 15, 2018 that at least 402,000 people have been the subject of legal proceedings initiated by the Turkish government over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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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