May 6, 2015

Deputy prime minister criticizes police raids against Manisa CSO

Deputy Prime Minister and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesperson Bülent Arınç has criticized the police raids on three “reading rooms” that provide a beneficial environment for children coming from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, as well as the 11 civil society organizations (CSO) that were raided as part of the same operation over the past week.

During a news program on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Arınç acknowledged that the raids were government-led and criticized them, saying that something suspicious has been going on in the western province of Manisa over the last few days and that these operations would lead to a loss of votes for the AK Party, adding: “I'm going to ask Manisa to vote [for us], as I already have. Won't they say to me: ‘We know you and we like you but [police under pressure from the AK Party] are raiding other people we like… The police chief is doing this and that like the head of a gang!' How can I reply when they say this to me?”

Arınç continued to criticize the raids against the CSO, saying: “[Police] are conducting raids in the middle of the day. What are they looking for? The CSO are innocent. It is a very grave matter to these people that their associations are being raided like terrorist organizations.”

Raids were conducted on the Gazi Hacı Nusrettin Kara Reading Room and Education Center, the Horozköy Reading and Education Association and the Altıntaş Reading and Education Association. All are affiliates of the Ufuk Reading Education Culture and Cooperation Association, and all have been targeted because of their alleged links to the Hizmet movement, a faith-based grassroots initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The raids are believed to be the resumption of a government-led retribution campaign against dissenting sections of society, including the Hizmet movement.

The Manisa branch of the aid organization Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anyone There?) was also targeted in the operation on Tuesday, as were other CSO's such as the Feza Educational and Cultural Foundation, the Health and Education Association, the Social Aid Association, the Moris Şinasi International Children's Health Association, the Manisa Public Education And Teaching Association, the Health and Social Assistance Association and the Aviation Community Sports Association.

Mehmet Davşan, the head of the Manisa Public Education Teaching Health Association, formerly an İmam Hatip Association and one of those associations targeted in the police operation on Tuesday, criticized the government, saying, “Those who said they would harm the İmam Hatip Associations have done the biggest harm to those in Manisa.”

“The name of our association is Public Education Teaching Health Association but the real mission of the association is to build and sustain İmam Hatip Associations in Manisa. Our only wish is to keep our associations afloat, and raise new generations for Manisa and for our country,” Davşan stated.

Manisa Police Chief Tayfur Erdal Ceren justified the initial raid last week, announcing to the press, “Those who provide financial assistance to these CSOs must understand that they are assisting terrorist groups.” However, Ceren's remarks have sparked criticism due to a complete absence of evidence that the groups have any links to terrorism.

Police operations founded on suspicion and opinion are now the norm in Turkey, after a judicial package introducing the much criticized “reasonable suspicion” clause was signed into effect by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 12. This law lowers the threshold for searches and reverses a reform from February 2014 that had only allowed courts to grant police the power to search people and property if there was "strong suspicion based on concrete evidence.”

The operations are widely believed to be an act of retribution by Erdoğan's administration for a corruption investigation that went public in December 2013. Erdoğan claims the Hizmet movement initiated but failed to conduct a coup against the government. The graft probe incriminated four former cabinet ministers, businessmen with close ties to the government, senior bureaucrats and family members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.

Published on Today's Zaman, 06 May 2015, Wednesday