September 21, 2015

Police raids on Ankara schools harshly condemned

Hundreds of police equipped with riot gear carried out raids on numerous schools in the Turkish capital of Ankara early on Monday, in yet another government-orchestrated operation targeting the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement.

Riot police units accompanied officials from seven other police divisions, including the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime and Cyber Crime Bureaus, during the raids in Ankara’s Yenimahalle district. Samanyolu High Schools, the Atlantik Educational Institutions, several elementary schools as well as a cultural center were also searched. Parents of students gathered at Samanyolu to protest the raids and show solidarity with the institutions.

The warrant given by the 5th Ankara Peace Court Magistrate allows searches to be conducted for three days at educational institutions which have won a total of 583 medals in international competitions. Magistrate Judge Yunus Sürer had previously issued the warrant for the raid on İpek Media Group in early September, as well as launching an investigation into Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

The officials began inspections at the schools after presenting a search warrant to Adnan Şeker, the lawyer representing the schools. Police closed down 16 security cameras during Monday’s raids and inspected employee records down to the detail. They also removed manhole covers and tore apart the backs of chairs while searching for narcotics at the Samanyolu Nurettin Topçu Elementary School. Even the Quran and children’s books were searched. The principle of the Atlantik Educational Institutions was detained on allegations of resisting police who did not hold the necessary warrants to search the institutions.

After being denied entry to the cultural center campus for not having the required warrant, the police teams from the Cyber-Crimes Unit conducted a second raid.

Speaking to Bugün TV, NBA star Enes Kanter, a graduate of the Samanyolu High Schools, expressed that the repeated raids on educational institutions were “deeply upsetting” and were negatively affecting Turkey’s image abroad. He stated: “Instead of the schools, the terror investigation should be brought against the officials who conducted the raids. The only goal of these schools is to raise talented individuals who contribute to their country.”

Reaction mounts

The raids have been slammed across the board by politicians as another oppressive government measure.

The Great Union Party (BBP) Vice President Remzi Çayır summed up the measures in the following terms: “There is nothing legal about this raid – it is entirely political. There is no sensible explanation for subjecting the Samanyolu High Schools to a terror investigation.”

CHP Group Vice Chairman Levent Gök called the raid “preposterous” stating: “How on earth could a school be subjected to a terror investigation?” Fellow CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal called the measure, coming just days before the holy Muslim holiday of sacrifice, an “imposition on freedom of education, peace and brotherhood.”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Sefer Aycan lamented the fact that the police in Turkey seem to focus on raiding schools instead of tackling the terror threat across the country, while Erkan Akçay, also with the MHP, noted: “These operations have no legal basis and seek solely to intimidate institutions.”

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen stressed: “These operations cannot be explained by anything more than a dictator’s hunger for power.” HDP deputy Altan Tan added: “What would necessitate the use of riot police in a raid on a school – what were they expecting to find? This vendetta against a movement is severely hindering the functioning of the state.”

Gülen movement targeted

The recent government actions are part of a nationwide crackdown on institutions and individuals sympathetic to the Gülen movement. President Erdoğan has accused the movement of orchestrating a graft investigation against him and his inner circle. The Gülen movement denies the charges, but ever since the allegations surfaced nearly two years ago, operations have escalated, with authorities conducting raids, shutting down schools, and defaming institutions or individuals with ties to the movement.

In May 2014, Erdoğan publicly advised Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters not to send their children to any schools affiliated with the movement, vowing: “We will not even give water [to the movement's members].” He had also added that a “witch hunt” would be carried out against anyone with ties to the movement.

Erdoğan has ordered officials in AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings belonging to the Gülen movement by any means necessary. The movement strongly denies the allegations, and no indictments have been brought against it.

Published on BGNNews, 21 September 2015, Monday