October 23, 2015

Lawyers, politicians criticize arrest of businessman Sesli

A number of lawyers and politicians have criticized the government for police operations carried out against prominent entrepreneurs in Uşak province based on the “reasonable suspicion” that they were members of an illegal organization after an Uşak court arrested businessman Hazim Sesli late on Oct. 21.

Sesli was detained on Tuesday as part of a police operation conducted in Uşak on Oct. 14 in which police officers detained 25 individuals, including prominent businessmen, on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” that they were members of the so-called "parallel structure,” a phrase coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement.

Sesli is a former president of the Uşak Chamber of Trade and Industry and was listed as a candidate deputy for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ahead of the 2011 general election.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency on Thursday, lawyers and politicians from opposition parties criticized the ruling AK Party government for authorizing the raids. Çetin Altınbilek, a lawyer representing Sesli, said: “There was no concrete evidence showing that he committed a crime. We will continue our legal fight to liberate him.”

İlhan Aşkan, another lawyer representing Sesli, said that the ruling shows that the court seems to regard going abroad with other businessmen to constitute criminal activity: “Hazim Sesli's business activities in Uşak and many other places in Turkey have annoyed [government officials]. It was emphasized during the interrogation that Sesli had made 448 journeys abroad with some of Turkey's leading bureaucrats, politicians and entrepreneurs. It's not fair to arrest someone for being involved in exporting to 57 countries and providing employment opportunities to nearly 1,500 people in Uşak.”

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) İzmir deputy Tacettin Bayır said that he regarded the police operation in Uşak as “unacceptable,” adding: “After the purges in the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK], the media and the judiciary, the government is slowly moving on to other people in society. They have now started purging businessmen.”

CHP İzmit deputy Erdal Aksünger, who is also a senior adviser to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said that the rule of law no longer functioned in Turkey. He criticized the fact that Sesli was arrested on grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” saying that the operation was “aimed at frightening, suppressing and terrorizing businessmen [in Turkey].”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) İzmir deputy Murat Koç also criticized the arrest of Sesli, saying that “Hazim Sesli is one of the businessmen who keep Uşak's economy alive. I felt very said when I learned about his arrest. I pray that God lifts the veil of mystery and allows the citizens of this country to see the true face [of the government]. ... These people are supporting the country's economy. What is the point of [arresting them]?”

Today's Zaman has learned that Sesli was asked bizarre questions while being interrogation before his arrest, including questions as to why he was involved in exporting goods to 57 countries and why he frequently went abroad with other businessmen.

One week before the arrest of Hazim Sesli, his brother Mehmet Sesli was one of a number of entrepreneurs arrested in Uşak on charges of providing scholarships and performing tarawih prayers with other businessmen during Ramadan.

A number of similar police operations have targeted individuals, businesses and civil society organizations affiliated with the Gülen movement in recent years. These operations are widely believed to be an act of retribution by the Erdoğan administration for the major graft investigations that were made public on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, implicating Erdoğan and other high-ranking AK Party figures in corruption. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of attempting to overthrow his government.

In May 2014, Erdoğan publicly vowed “not to give even water” to the movement's members. He also said that he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the Gülen movement and has also ordered officials from AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings belonging to the movement by any means necessary. The Gülen movement strongly denies the allegations that it masterminded the graft investigations as part of an effort to overthrow the government.

On Dec. 12, 2014, Erdoğan signed into law a change to Article 116 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), reducing the threshold for the burden of proof that is required to obtain a search warrant from “strong and concrete evidence” to mere “reasonable suspicion.” Commentators allege that this allows the police to not only search any individual, their home or vehicle more easily but also paves the way for seizure of the property of government critics on the grounds that they have committed a crime.

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 October 2015, Friday