July 7, 2014

Criticism rains down on police order to unlawfully probe Hizmet

Criticism has been raining down on a written order sent by the National Police Department to police departments in 30 provinces in which the former accused the faith-based Hizmet movement of working to overthrow the government with no evidence and asked the police to inquire if the movement is an armed group.

According to critics, who include politicians, legal experts and civil society members, the order is tantamount to a witch hunt and it has no place in the law and Constitution. Critics also agree that those behind the unlawful order for a probe into Hizmet will not flee justice and will be called to account sooner or later.

The said order was dated June 25 but was given media coverage only on Sunday. It was drafted by the head of the National Police Department counter-terrorism unit (TEM), Turgut Aslan.

In the order, which includes 23 articles, Aslan claimed -- without providing any evidence -- that Hizmet seeks to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and seize control of the state by abolishing the constitutional order. The TEM head asked officials at police departments of the 30 provinces to contribute to an ongoing investigation launched against the Hizmet movement by the Anti-constitutional Crimes Investigation Bureau at the Chief Prosecutor's Office in Ankara. He also asked the officials to investigate in their provinces members of Hizmet to see if they have any armed power.

Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, an expert in constitutional law, said the order is a clear indication of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's efforts to “create evidence” for accusations he has been leveling against the Hizmet movement for several months. “The prime minister has picked the Hizmet movement as a target [to attack] since Dec. 17, 2013 [when the major graft investigation became public]. He has accused Hizmet of being a parallel structure and working to overthrow the government. He has also accused the movement of cooperating with foreign powers [to this end]. The accusations have not been proven or supported with any evidence yet. And now they [the prime minister and his government] are apparently working to create evidence for the accusations,” he stated.

Türk also questioned why the TEM head sent his order to only 30 police departments and did not do the same for the departments in the remaining 51 provinces. “In law, there must be reasonable suspicion to blame a suspect. While there is not even a weak suspicion [of Hizmet members' involvement in a crime], considering an entire community [Hizmet] as potential criminals does not comply with the principles of the state of law and the Constitution. It also violates universal human rights,” the minister added.

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.

The prime minister has also complained that the graft investigation was orchestrated by the Hizmet movement and vowed to respond with a counter-operation after the March 30 local elections.

In his order, National Police Department counter-terrorism unit head Aslan asked the heads of the 30 police departments to inquire if Hizmet members have the strength to overthrow the government or abolish the Constitution if they happen to have any armed power.

Aslan's order has followed an earlier order by Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Serdar Çoşkun, who 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 gather intelligence about Hizmet's members as well as media organs, civil society organs, private schools, student dormitories, exam preparation schools, companies, foundations and associations affiliated with Hizmet. This intelligence is then likely to be used to initiate an operation against the movement.

Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who is also a human rights activist, said the law and rule of law are under growing threat in Turkey as political and judicial bodies have been first finding potential criminals and then making up evidence against those criminals. “We are in an undeclared state of emergency,” he added.

For former deputy Ümmet Kandoğan, the AK Party government is seeking to turn the country into a police state and the police order against the Hizmet movement is a clear indication to this aspiration. “The prime minister dropped signals for this aspiration with his earlier remarks on a planned witch hunt [against Hizmet]. The plan is now in action,” he noted, and added that Hizmet has been picked as a victim as it has refused to bow to the wrongful policies pursued by the government.

Fabricating false evidence a crime

In his order, TEM head Aslan also asked police departments to carry out a probe to see if the Hizmet movement had any role in some infamous assassinations that shook Turkey in recent years, which include the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, the murder of Catholic priest Father Santoro in 2006, an attack on the Council of State in 2006 in which a senior judge was killed, the murder of three Christian missionaries at a bookstore in Malatya in 2007 and the killing of Jewish businessman Üzeyir Garih, who was found murdered in a Muslim cemetery in İstanbul in 2001.

In connection with those criminal acts, Aslan asked the police to search locations belonging to members of the Hizmet movement to see if they possess any documents related to the assassinations. If they discover any such records, Aslan noted in his order that the documents should immediately be sent to the National Police Department.

Retired Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Ahmet Gündel said no suspicion has emerged about Hizmet's involvement in the assassinations that shook Turkey in the 2000s, but the police order against the movement mentions a plan to establish a link between Hizmet and those assassinations. “If there is suspicion [regarding Hizmet's involvement in the assassinations], it must be investigated objectively. But if someone is planning to put the blame for the assassinations on Hizmet even though the movement has no hand in the incidents, then it is a crime,” he warned, and added that those responsible will be held accountable one day.

According to Mustafa Erdoğan, a professor of constitutional law and politics and also dean of the İstanbul Commerce University Faculty of Law, the police order for a probe into the Hizmet movement is unlawful. “Indeed, describing the order as unlawful is too light. It is an attempt to mix politics with the law and destroys the legal order in the country,” he said, and cautioned that members of the police force will commit a crime if they obey the order and fabricate false evidence against members of the Hizmet movement.

Furthermore, TEM's Aslan also asked the police to carry out a comprehensive inquiry to investigate the activities of the Hizmet movement and its higher-ups, including Fetullah Gülen and his close circle. In his order, the TEM head said the police should find out for what individual or foreign group the movement works and how often its prominent members leave Turkey. He also stated that the police should find out if any Hizmet member has been involved in a criminal act.

Aslan also asked the police officials to obtain the required court orders to wiretap the phone conversations of members of the Hizmet movement.

Investigative journalist Önder Aytaç, a former police official, said the government's efforts to fabricate evidence of crime against Hizmet are doomed to fail. “They [the government] cannot prove Hizmet's involvement in crime because the movement has not been involved in any,” he noted.

In addition, Aslan asked police officials to find secret witnesses who will speak against the Hizmet movement. According to Aslan, the witnesses may be individuals who stood accused in a number of criminal cases that were opened after 2003 -- shortly after the AK Party rose to power. The TEM head was implying the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases, which contain alleged plans to overthrow the AK Party government.

Aslan went on to order the officials at the 30 police departments to find out about academics at universities who have done research or written books about Gülen and his movement. The TEM head also asked the officials to send him copies of such research and books.

Published on Today's Zaman, 07 July 2014, Monday