June 30, 2016

U.S. Judge Tosses Suit Against Reclusive Muslim Cleric

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that a reclusive Muslim cleric in Pennsylvania orchestrated human rights abuses in his native Turkey, ruling the claims didn’t belong in U.S. courts.

Turkey’s government funded the civil suit against Fethullah Gulen as part of a crackdown on the cleric and his movement by President Recep Erdogan.

It claimed Mr. Gulen ordered sympathetic police, prosecutors and judges in Turkey to target members of a rival spiritual movement critical of his teachings.

U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani in Scranton, Pa., threw out the suit, ruling the plaintiffs “offer only circumstantial and tenuous allegations of a connection between Mr. Gulen’s domestic conduct and the violations of plaintiffs’ rights in Turkey.”

The legal action was filed in December on behalf of three men who claimed Gulen sympathizers in Turkish law enforcement planted evidence, fabricated search warrants, conducted illegal wiretaps and ultimately arrested and detained the men on trumped-up charges.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Amsterdam, had no immediate response to Wednesday’s ruling.

Mr. Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, has criticized Mr. Erdogan, his onetime ally, over the Turkish leader’s rule.

“The case was a politically motivated attack leveled by the administration of Turkey’s President...against Mr. Gulen, for doing nothing more than publicly accusing the Erdogan administration of being corrupt and authoritarian,” Michael Miller, one of Mr. Gulen’s lawyers, said in a statement Wednesday.

The suit was part of a broad campaign against Mr. Gulen’s movement in Turkey and abroad. The Erdogan regime has carried out a purge of civil servants suspected of ties to the movement, seized businesses and closed some media organizations. Mr. Gulen has been charged criminally with plotting to overthrow the government, and was placed on trial in absentia last month.

With the financial backing of the Turkish government, Amsterdam also has focused on a network of about 150 publicly funded U.S. charter schools started by Mr. Gulen’s followers. State and federal authorities have probed some of the schools amid allegations of financial mismanagement and visa fraud, though no criminal charges have been filed.

Mr. Gulen’s supporters denounced the Turkish government over its pursuit of the cleric.

“Instead of filing frivolous lawsuits that drain both U.S. and Turkish taxpayer dollars, the Erdogan government should release jailed journalists, return private property confiscated by the government and stop targeting every critical voice with politically-driven legal harassment,” said Y. Alp Aslandogan, who leads a group that promotes Gulen’s ideas and work.

Published on Wall Street Journal, 30 June 2016, Thursday