A story in the Taraf daily on Wednesday reporting that a secretive unit in the National Police Department has profiled businessmen and some 100,000 Hizmet-related companies all across Turkey has stirred a massive public reaction.
The profiling has caused some to suggest that Hizmet members are being actively persecuted more severely than previously thought.
The unit, reportedly named the Cosmic Study Group (KÇG), is reminiscent of the West Study Group (BÇG) which has been linked to the Feb. 28 post-modern coup. According to the Taraf daily, the KÇG is made up of figures from the top echelons of the internal security bureaucracy and has been tasked with collecting any data concerning the Hizmet movement.
The unit and its responsibilities may be considered part of what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in one of his public rallies, called a deliberate witch hunt against Hizmet members.
Turkish Confederation of Industrialists and Businessmen (TUSKON) Chairman Rızanur Meral defines the segregation of a group of people in society based on their world views and political stances as a digression from universal democratic values.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Meral noted that the anti-democratic and oppressive practices being carried out against Hizmet members is difficult to understand for foreign investors. Such practices do serious harm to Turkey's image, since such arbitrary and unethical treatment of one part of society is an attribute of totalitarian regimes.
TUSKON is the widest and most comprehensive business confederation of Turkey and is known to have close ties with the Hizmet movement.
A voluntary movement embracing the ideals of interfaith dialogue, tolerance and peaceful coexistence with a special emphasis on education, Hizmet became Erdoğan's target after its calls for serious inquiries into corruption and bribery allegations, made public in the Dec. 17 and 25 police probes.
Erdoğan immediately refuted any wrongdoing on the part of his cabinet and swiftly deflected the attention directed at his involvement in the corruption allegations by stigmatizing Hizmet and accusing it of being a part of a global conspiracy to oust him from power. Massive purges of government bureaucracy, the police and the judiciary ensued.
Soon after -- and especially following the March 30 local elections -- the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government intensified the witch hunt to encompass private businesses and individuals.
Meral said their members have been under intensive pressure from the government and certain state institutions. “The Finance Ministry, in the simplest terms, is using the investigations as a weapon and we are receiving a number of complaints about it,” he said.
Meral added that they are not against inspections and audits, but that the heavy concentration of such controls on a certain group of people -- and particularly on one whose views on government policies are critical -- is unacceptable.
The members of TUSKON further complain that they are encountering lots of extra problems in license applications, investment permissions and in many other government-related bureaucratic processes.
“Members have even been told to terminate their membership to TUSKON through a notary public and to send a copy of this membership termination in writing to organizations close to the government,” said Meral, without giving specific names of organizations.
A businessman told Today's Zaman on the condition of anonymity that he has witnessed the implementation of such discriminatory policies against him and other businesspeople affiliated with the Hizmet.
The businessman's narrative of his own experiences evinces the level that the government's implementation of illicit policies has reached in its quest to extirpate the Hizmet movement. Erdoğan's wish, expressed in a baleful tone during one of his tirades at a public rally, that “there is not even water to drink for them,” is being put into practice by the vast state power in his hands, said the businessman, particularly highlighting the role of the Finance Ministry in this war against the Hizmet movement.
The KÇG has allegedly categorized companies and businessmen in a variety of ways, from their membership in business organizations to the profiles of their customers. Taraf said it had not been able to deduce why this profiling had been carried out or in what way the information stored in the KÇG archives might be utilized. However, Taraf claimed that the Finance Ministry's recent inspections into companies known to be close to the Hizmet movement may have been conducted as an implementation of this data stored in the KÇG archives.
The businessman says not only private enterprises but also foundations and associations connected to the Hizmet movement have been placed under pressure all across Turkey, adding that the situation is deteriorating gradually in scale and magnitude. The revenue offices of the Finance Ministry were particularly upfront about these harassment practices, he said. “Any company that has put money into Bank Asya [a participation bank with Hizmet affiliations] accounts since Dec. 17 is under inspection by the revenue offices of the Finance Ministry,” he said.
Loan demands from public banks requested by companies with membership in the Hizmet movement's business organizations have almost always been turned down, said the same businessman. “This is a sheer contradiction of the [words of the] Constitution and the law. It is a crime of segregation and a crime of blocking free enterprise,” said the businessman.
According to some recent media stories, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, on receiving instructions from Erdoğan, launched an operation against the Hizmet movement, and the National Police Department's Counter-terrorism Department developed an action plan accordingly. The KÇG is the executive body that will carry out this plan, Taraf claimed. There has been no statement from the relevant bureaus to repudiate the assertions so far.
According to the unanswered claims in Taraf, the KÇG is structured into three sub-branches. One of these is responsible for tracking businesses close to the Hizmet movement, while the second keeps tabs on its educational activities. This branch works in cooperation with the Education Ministry and Finance Ministry and is tasked with making surprise inspections of educational institutions and trying to obstruct their operations. The third branch is entrusted with identifying members of the Hizmet movement in the bureaucracy.
According to reports, the KÇG has collected information about Hizmet-related companies from the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and the Undersecretariat of Treasury, as well as the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) and the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK). Adding insult to injury, the KÇG did not seek a court order before procuring confidential information about private companies and individuals. Relying on the data it collected from state sources, the KÇG created profiles for these companies including such information as the names of primary customers, the foundations they donate to, their trade volume, the taxes they pay and more.
Bal: KÇG has no precedent in state tradition
Kütahya independent deputy İdris Bal, who brought the plan to Parliament's agenda with a question for Interior Minister Efkan Ala on Wednesday, further elaborated on the KÇG claims on Thursday. He said this new and secretive unit is a special structure that has no precedent in the Turkish state tradition. It promotes a system that requires ordinary officers to profile their superiors, said Bal, arguing that this illegal formation could be abused in a number of ways, including the creation of false evidence to incriminate innocent members of the Hizmet movement.
Speaking to the Cihan News Agency, Bal said the state administration requires transparency and accountability as well as an independent judiciary, adding that manufacturing evidence and the establishment of cosmic rooms to threaten civil society are not compatible with democracy. Bal argued that the same persecution of the religiously observant during the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup era is being practiced today on members of the Hizmet movement. “While on the one hand, the DNA of the state is being tampered with through oppressive tactics used on certain state institutions, civil society is being engineered on the other hand. There are attempts to design religious communities, from their businessmen to media outlets,” said Bal, adding that the government is penalizing all groups who fail to openly declare their obedience.
Published on Today's Zaman, 10 July 2014, Thursday