September 4, 2016

Erdogan purge far worse than the McCarthy era

Shannon Ebrahim

What is happening in Turkey right now makes the McCarthy era in the US during the 1950s look like a picnic. When communists were targeted under McCarthyism they were blacklisted; hundreds were jailed if they refused to co-operate with the authorities, and many were compelled to leave the country.

In Turkey it is not communists, but Gulenists. Anyone remotely associated with the Gulen movement is being rounded up and jailed - not by the hundreds, but by the tens of thousands.

To date, at least 40 360 suspected Gulenists have been detained in Turkey over the past months.

Under the McCarthy crackdown, there were no reports of torture against communists, although reports of torture of supposed Gulenists in detention are becoming more widespread, according to international human rights groups.

A UN group of experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have criticised the purges in the Turkish military, media, education and justice sectors. The UN group of 19 special rapporteurs and three working groups have said the Turkish government is using “wide and indiscriminate administrative powers that affect core human rights”. The UN has raised concern that the measures are being used to target dissent and criticism of the government.

In South Africa, followers of the Gulen movement who run some of the best-performing schools in the country have been targeted and threatened by supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime.

Turkish journalists in South Africa, supporters of the Gulen movement, have been castigated as terrorists by the Turkish ambassador on public radio, with no evidence to back up these claims.

It has all become a matter of guilt by association. This is what McCarthyism was notorious for. Anyone who socialised or worked with communists in the 1950s in the US was suspected of being a communist and targeted by the state. This is the most well-documented case of guilt by association in modern history. Turkey has far surpassed McCarthyism.

In the 1950s, alleged communists were hauled before public hearings run by Senator Joseph McCarthy and grilled about their associations.

In Turkey, there is no public scrutiny of individual cases, and tens of thousands are languishing in jails. In line with a government order, 30 000 convicts have been released to make room for political detainees.

Since the attempted coup in July, 2 740 judges and prosecutors have been arbitrarily detained and many lawyers are too afraid to represent the judges for fear of guilt by association.

According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of lawyers have been detained for alleged association with the Gulen movement, and many lawyers are being pressured by the state not to represent their clients.

Under the Turkish judicial system there is no longer a presumption of innocence. The Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors has created a list of supposed Gulenists and issued a secrecy order to have them detained under the state of emergency.

No evidence has been produced against individual detainees.

McCarthy also produced secret lists of communists to be detained, but most were at least given the opportunity of appearing before public hearings.

The irony of the whole sordid ordeal is that just a few years ago, Erdogan was a firm bedfellow of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher, writer and political figure he now finds it politically expedient to call a terrorist.

It was the Gulen movement that supported Erdogan’s rise to power in 2002, using its extensive media agencies. The movement was convinced Erdogan was a democrat who would safeguard rights and freedoms and move Turkey away from its tradition of military coups.

In the years following Erdogan’s rise to power, he used to refer to the Gulenist-owned Zaman newspaper, which has the widest circulation in the country, as the “guardians of democracy in Turkey”.

When Gulenists in the media and the judiciary started to expose the corruption of Erdogan, his family, and some of his ministers in 2013, they became public enemy No 1. And thanks to the failed coup, all Gulenists have been labelled terrorists and the onslaught against them has become a free-for-all.

There are virtually no independent media left in Turkey, with 160 media outlets having been shut down and 108 journalists detained. This week, arrest warrants were issued for a further 35 journalists. According to most journalist watchdog groups, Turkey is now the worst jailer of journalists in the world.

If we don’t tell the truth about what is happening in Turkey, who will?

HM Blog: Readers may refer to, for updated information on purges.

Published on Sunday Independent, 4 September 2016, Sunday