June 26, 2014

İstanbul Fem prep school takes sign removal to court

The Fem prep school, which helps students prepare for Turkey's national university entrance exam, has filed a complaint against the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality with the İstanbul Prosecutor's Office over a signboard removed by municipal workers for no apparent reason.

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality on Wednesday removed a signboard of the Fem prep school in İstanbul's Mecidiyeköy district on the grounds that the school had violated the municipality's advertising regulations. However, many believe the real reason is because the prep school is affiliated with a social movement Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not approve of.

The Fem prep schools are close to the faith-based Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement of being behind a massive corruption investigation into his government that he claims is a coup attempt intended to overthrow his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce any evidence to justify his claims.

Muhittin Yılmaz, a lawyer for Fem, said on Thursday that the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality had approved the signboard, for which all taxes have been paid. “It is obvious that my client has been discriminated against in a way that violates the law and goes against equality. This can be demonstrated by the photographs we have submitted to the prosecutor's office showing signboards that belong to hundreds of businesses on the same street.”

Yılmaz said the prep school's complaint was filed against İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, all the deputy mayors, the head of the Municipal Security Unit and various other officials. He said the petition made it clear that the signboard had been put up after the official approvals had been obtained, yet it had been taken down by municipal officials with no prior warning and without citing a reason. The lawyer said that civil servants are obliged by law and the Constitution to not discriminate among people and ensure equality among citizens while performing their duties. “The municipal officials have committed the crimes of discrimination, abuse of their duty, damaging property and a hate crime against my client.”

Mayor Topbaş earlier said he he did not know about the incident, but that a prior notice should have been sent.

Lawyer Yılmaz said: “There was no prior warning. They came to remove the signboard at 2 a.m. My client discovered what was going on by chance. They told us, ‘We have orders, we are going to remove the board'.” On Thursday, head of the İstanbul branch of the education professionals' union Türk Eğitim Sen issued a statement about the signboard. He said that the municipality's removal of the signboard was a discriminatory act. “These are all indicators of lawlessness. There are no laws [in Turkey]. They [municipal officials] are acting as they see fit. They will not get away with this,” said the statement.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 June 2014, Thursday

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