February 25, 2016

Gov’t criticized for closure of private schools in Erzurum

Political figures and nongovernmental organization representatives have strongly criticized the closure and seizure of properties belonging to four schools in the eastern province of Erzurum in a government-initiated move against the faith-based Gülen movement on Tuesday.

Erzurum 1st Penal Court of Peace Judge Selim Ertem issued the ruling to seize buildings owned by the schools after hearing a case brought by Prosecutor İsmail Karataş.

On Tuesday, police officers detained 30 people including the former mayor of the city of Erzurum, who represented the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and issued detention warrants for another five individuals. In the operation, which took place in Ankara, Çanakkale, Erzurum, İstanbul, Trabzon and Van, suspects are accused of “misconduct,” “bid rigging” and “membership in a terrorist organization.” The detainees were ordered to appear in court to testify early on Thursday after undergoing a medical examination at the Palandöken State Hospital in Erzurum.

Officers from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau of the Erzurum Police Department raided a number of houses and officers prior to the detentions on Tuesday, including the house of a 91-year-old well-known in the area for his charitable donations. The officers decided not to detain him after being shown a doctor's report stating that he was bedridden and should not be moved. The people whose houses and officers were raided are thought to be sympathizers of the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a grassroots initiative inspired by the ideas of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Thursday, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Erzurum deputy Kamil Aydın praised the closed schools, calling the move against them “government oppression.” Aydın also said it was immoral to claim that people inspired by Gülen are members of a terrorist organization. “Members of terrorist organizations carry guns and employ violence. Instead of fighting terrorist organizations, [government officials] have targeted people well-known in Erzurum for their charitable donations -- including a man aged over 90. The losers in this operation are the people of Erzurum. … Their schools have been closed. This seems like a punishment for the people of Erzurum. The closed schools are well-known in the area for offering high quality education. Many AK Party officials such as former Health Minister Recep Akdağ sent their children to these schools,” Aydın said.

Anatolia Youth Association Erzurum provincial branch head Aktay Eşsiz also told Today's Zaman on Thursday that it was wrong to have closed the schools. “People we know very well have been accused of being terrorists and we can't see how this is possible. We hope justice will prevail,” Aktay said.

Kenan İrdemez, the Erzurum branch head of the Union of Active Educators (Aktif Eğitim-Sen), also told Today's Zaman that the operation in Erzurum was intended to tarnish the image of people in Erzurum who are known for giving to charity. In addition, Turkish Education Personnel Union (Türk Eğitim-Sen) Erzurum branch head Müfit Bayraktar said it was “unacceptable” for the government to illegally seize properties belonging to schools.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies Barış Yarkadaş and Mahmut Tanal criticized the penal courts of peace, telling Today's Zaman that they were “an instrument” of the AK Party government. “The penal courts of peace get involved whenever somebody criticizes the AK Party government and the courts issue unlawful rulings against them. The penal courts of peace must be abolished because they do not to give just verdicts,” Yarkadaş said.

Tanal also said that the penal courts of peace serve political ends, adding that they do not give rulings in accordance with the Constitution. “Politically motivated courts such as these divide the various segments of society and damage the public's sense of justice,” he said.

The penal courts of peace were designed and established in 2014 by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government to pursue its critics and opponents by orchestrating what many have said are sham trials in politically motivated cases. The penal courts of peace have received considerable criticism for empowering the “judges of peace” who serve in those courts with extraordinary powers, such as the authority to issue search warrants, order detentions and allow the seizure of property. The courts have also been accused of being the instruments in the enforcement of the government's wishes by instigating arrests based on the headlines of pro-government newspapers.

Published on Today's Zaman, 25 February 2016, Thursday