August 31, 2015

Special bureau set up to conduct raids on schools, reminiscent of coup-era practices

A special unit has been set up within the Ministry of Education to carry out raids on schools inspired by the faith-based Gülen movement, a move that is reminiscent of military coup-era practices, the Bugün daily reported on Monday.

The daily described "Special Bureau 1" as being similar to the West Working Group (BÇG), a clandestine group formed within the army to monitor the government, media outlets and unions prior the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup, in which the government was forced to resign.

The government considers the Gülen movement -- also known as the Hizmet movement -- responsible for the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal, which implicated then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and members of his inner circle, in what was alleged to be an attempt to bring down the government. Afterward, Erdoğan vowed to carry out a "witch hunt" against the movement. This year, schools and even kindergartens that are inspired by the movement have been raided by the police and inspectors from the Ministry of Education.

Bugün's report said the existence of the special unit was revealed after correspondence between institutions within the Ministry of Education was leaked to the media by public officials. The Ministry of Education sent a letter to the Ankara Police Department on Aug. 19 requesting to draw up a list of officers who will take part in future raids on these schools and that it be sent to the ministry, the news report stated.

The notification, titled "Inspections of Private Education Institutions," was also sent to the Social Security Institution (SGK), the Tax Administration General Directorate, Provincial Directorates for National Education and a number of other state bodies. Signed by Ankara Provincial Directorate of Education Director Erol Bozkurt, the letter revealed that the decision to form the unit had been made in a meeting held by the Committee for the Inspection and Monitoring of Private Education Institutions on Aug. 17.

Bozkurt also asked these other state bodies to inform the ministry about which personnel will take part in the raids and inspections.

The police and inspectors are only raiding schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement, prompting criticism from education organizations and civil society groups that have claimed that the raids are intended to harm specific educational institutions or companies. These schools are investigated based on legislation concerning organized crime and anyone found guilty under the auspices of this legislation could face a 30-year prison sentence.

The raids, which began after a false tip-off, intensified in August when private schools in provinces such as Çanakkale, İzmir, Manisa and Diyarbakır were raided as a part of the government-orchestrated operation targeting the Hizmet movement.

Published on Today's Zaman, 31 August 2015, Monday