June 25, 2014

Ala does not deny anti-Hizmet plot, insults reporter instead

Interior Minister Efkan Ala, when asked on Wednesday to comment on an alleged secret plot devised by the government against members of the faith-based Hizmet movement, avoided giving a direct response and chose to insult the reporter who asked the question instead.

The minister, in response to the question, did not acknowledge or deny the existence of the plot and directed accusations -- without providing any evidence -- at his predecessor, İdris Naim Şahin. Ala accused Şahin of having carried out illegal wiretaps during his term in office. “It has been revealed how many illegal wiretaps were carried out during the period he served [as the interior minister]. A plan to overthrow the government was also devised during his term in office,” Ala told reporters as he left the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headquarters in Ankara.

The alleged anti-Hizmet plot was brought to the fore last week when Şahin submitted a question to Parliament on June 20, asking if there is a secret plot against Hizmet and if the AK Party had mobilized all its resources to gather evidence to initiate an operation against the movement.

In his question, Şahin said he had received a large number of documents pertaining to the alleged plan after he stepped down as interior minister. The documents suggest, he said, that the Interior Ministry had recently ordered intelligence officers to gather evidence to launch a police operation against the group. According to Şahin's question, the action plan recommends that authorities investigate if Hizmet members have weapons and if it would be possible for its members to stage a coup against the AK Party government.

Hizmet, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, is a grassroots education and interfaith dialogue movement operating all over the world.

On Wednesday, Ala expressed frustration at a reporter who asked him the question about the action plan against the Hizmet movement. “I will not offer a comment, regardless of the identity of the person who asked me the question and regardless of the quality of the question. I have no more comments. I am sure you [reporters] are wise enough to understand what I mean,” the minister said.

In the meantime, legal experts, human rights activists and civil society members have continued to express strong criticism of the alleged plot, saying both preparing and putting into action the plot are crimes that involve dire legal consequences.

According to Ahmet Gündel, a retired public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the plot, if authentic, seeks to interfere in people's private lives, which is a crime under Turkish law. “Those who gave the order for the preparation of such a plot and who put the plot into action will be faced with legal consequences,” he stated.

As part of the action plan, a chief public prosecutor recently ordered the Ankara police to carry out an extensive project related to the Hizmet movement and profile academics, businessmen, public servants and ordinary citizens affiliated with the movement, according to documents published by Al Jazeera Turk earlier this week.

According to Al Jazeera Turk, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun sent an order to the Ankara Police Department and its Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM) on June 11 to carry out a secret and unlawful investigation into the Hizmet movement. As part of the investigation, the prosecutor asked the police to find out what the “parallel structure” -- a reference to the Hizmet movement -- is exactly, who its members are, what the objectives of the group are, how it is organized and what its human and financial resources are.

Prosecutor Coşkun also asked KOM to cooperate with the Ankara Police Department Counterterrorism Unit to find out if the Hizmet movement is an armed group and if it can be considered a terrorist organization.

The president of the Law and Life Association, lawyer Mehmet Kasap, said an investigation against an individual or group must be based on concrete evidence of a crime but an investigation that prosecutor Coşkun ordered into Hizmet members, as per the government's controversial action plan, is in violation of this principle. “The prosecutor's order and the action plan do not comply with the principles of a democratic state. The prosecutor overstepped his authority by ordering police departments to carry out an unlawful investigation into a civil society group [Hizmet],” Kasap added.

Lawyer İrfan Sönmez said targeting an entire civil society based on an assumption that some members of that group may be criminals is against universal principles of law. “Unfortunately, there is a tendency to the contrary in our country. Some civil society groups are initially picked as targets and then they are accused on an ungrounded basis so as to discredit them in the eyes of the people. This is what we have been witnessing about the Hizmet movement,” he noted.

Since a major graft operation became public on Dec. 17 of last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also the AK Party leader, has continuously referred to Hizmet as a terrorist organization that, acting on the orders of foreign powers, is trying to stage a coup against him. He has even likened Hizmet volunteers to hashish-consuming assassins. He has not yet provided any evidence for his claims and accusations.

Human Rights Association (İHD) Chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan said being a member of a civil society group, be it Hizmet or any other group, cannot be considered a crime. “If this is considered a crime, then almost all of us will be in trouble,” he noted, and recalled that Gülen was in the past tried on charges of establishing an illegal organization but was acquitted at the end of an eight-year case. “That case is over, but I wonder what has led the government to accuse Gülen of a crime similar to those past days,” Türkdoğan added.

Published on Cihan, 25 June 2014, Wednesday