July 16, 2014

AK Party municipality cancels Hizmet-affiliated dorm's permit

The Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) mayor of Hendek, a district of Sakarya province, has canceled a building permit that it had issued three months previously for a new student dormitory allegedly because the dorm administration is affiliated with the Hizmet movement, a faith-based civil society initiative intensely disliked by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The incident comes shortly after the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality removed the signboards of a prep school, also affiliated with Hizmet, which many believe was a response to a demand from Erdoğan to his party's municipalities to restrict Hizmet-affiliated facilities in their districts.

Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement of being behind a massive corruption investigation into the government that he claims is a coup attempt intended to overthrow his government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce any evidence to justify his claims. Erdoğan's hostility towards Hizmet has increased after Dec. 17, 2013, when prosecutors made public a massive graft investigation targeting the government, which has caused the resignation of three ministers and the removal of one. Erdoğan has accused the movement of being behind the corruption investigation, which he claims is an attempt to overthrow his government, although he has produced no evidence to support his claims.

Recently, Erdoğan called on the mayors of his party not to allow facilities they believe to be affiliated with Hizmet to operate in their municipalities. In a most recent example, Hendek Mayor Ali İnci canceled a permit for a dorm issued only three months ago by the same municipality. The written notice stated that permit No: 29/21 dated March 7, 2014, was “given due to a mistake during the election period.” It also claimed that the dorm building did not meet several requirements in the zoning code.

Halis Doğan, an official of the private Sevgi Hendek Education Facilities, said all the documents of the building were in order, and the building had been given a permit on March 7. “They gave us a notification on June 16 citing problems with the angle of the wheelchair ramp at the entrance, the height of the attic, the fire hydrophore system and the connection between the water supply and fire cabinets, which had all been addressed prior to the issuance of the permit. It is strange that they are citing these as the grounds for the cancellations. There is nothing wrong with the building as they claim.” He said they wouldn't have been able to acquire a permit in the first place, had there been any problems with the building.

He noted that the facility is currently waiting for an approval document from the governor's office. “We are shocked. Our building permit was canceled for no reason. We will go to court over this,” Doğan said.

Mayor İnci has not made any statements about the cancellation of the building permit. Meanwhile, others in the district claimed that the mayor sent the municipal police teams to another Hizmet-affiliated dorm -- which has been active in the district for 10 years -- for no apparent reason.

Others have claimed that a construction company owned by Mayor İnci has recently completed the construction of a 650-student dorm and leased it to the government for 17 years. The terms of the lease agreement have not been made public.

Late last month, the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality removed the signboards of a building that is home to the offices of the FEM and Anafen prep schools, which are affiliated with Hizmet, for no reason.

Later, in response to outrage caused by the signboard removal, the municipality removed other signs on the same building.

On June 29 the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality removed ads placed by the Fatih College high school from the city's billboards, although the school had paid for the advertising space.

The AK Party government has grown increasingly authoritarian, with Prime Minister Erdoğan accusing all of his government's opponents of attempting to overthrow him. Erdoğan has made clear that he will not tolerate dissent, saying everybody has to choose a side, or “risk elimination.” The government has been criticized for forgiving taxes owed by government-controlled media, but clamping down on publications that publish different opinions.

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 July 2014, Tuesday