Prominent Turkish footballers investigated over alleged links to Gülen movement

Prominent Turkish footballers (L to R) Emre Belözoğlu, Arda Turan, Bülent Korkmaz and Okan Buruk.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into famous footballers Emre Belözoğlu, Arda Turan, Okan Buruk and Bülent Korkmaz for their alleged links to the Gülen movement, according to reports in the Turkish media on Thursday.

The prominent footballers face charges of “membership in FETÖ” and “although not being a member of the organization, helping it knowingly and willingly.”

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

According to the reports, the prosecutors are investigating the validity of the allegations. The prosecutor’s office will reportedly take the testimony of the footballers before deciding how to proceed with the case. The prosecutors have separate investigation files for each of the footballers.

Separately, six Turkish footballers — Bekir İrtegün, Uğur Boral, Zafer Biryol, Ersin Güreler, İsmail Şengül and Ömer Çatkıç — are currently standing trial on charges of membership in the Gülen movement. They were similarly investigated over the Gülen movement’s alleged “football structure.”

A hearing in their case took place on Tuesday during which the footballers were reported to have given the names of many other prominent footballers linked to the movement. The six athletes face prison terms of up to 22,5 years each.

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 the coup attempt in July 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 more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. 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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