April 10, 2015

Prosecutor uses discredited testimony to accuse Gülen of terror charges

A scandalous indictment based on an account provided by a discredited witness, who was turned into an informant by way of a plea bargain to evade theft and misconduct charges, was accepted by an Ankara court.

The indictment, prepared by Ankara Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, accuses seven suspects, including four police officers, of handing over a police car, equipment, documents and information to criminal organisations.

It was accepted by the Ankara 2nd High Criminal Court, a special court that was recently set up by a government-controlled judicial council to try opponents and critics. No trial date has been set.

The prosecutor claimed the suspects belong to what he called the "Fethullah terrorist organization," when in fact no such organization has ever existed.

Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen's lawyer, Nurullah Albayrak, said the indictment shows the judiciary is being used as a tool to suppress people and groups who do not share the same views as the ruling government.

“When this dark period has ended, we believe that these unlawful practices will be tried in accordance with the Constitution and the people's conscience,” Albayrak said.

There is no court judgment that convicted Gülen -- who inspired a worldwide network titled Hizmet (popularly known as the Gülen movement) that focuses on education and interfaith dialogue efforts -- as a terrorist.

Albayrak said an organization can only be deemed terrorist after a conviction in the lower court is accepted by the criminal chamber of the Supreme Appeals Court. Neither the police nor the prosecutor can classify anyone or any organization as terrorist.

Prosecutor Coşkun claimed he has found concrete evidence proving that the suspects acted in an organized manner, but only listed two CDs that included public lectures delivered by Gülen and copies of news reports that were published in pro-government dailies.

In what would seem to be another unjustified, government-motivated judicial action against the Hizmet movement, a civil society organization, Ankara Chief Prosecutor's office claimed in the indictment that the suspects tried to defame the re-staffed police department after an unprecedented reshuffle in the police force by the government.

The indictment is largely based on the testimony provided by Seyyit Akşit, a police officer who was detained on accusations of involvement in theft and misconduct and subsequently pressured into testifying against Hizmet in exchange for a guarantee that he would be released.

Akşit, who worked in the organized crime unit in the Ankara Police Department, handed over police equipment to Kadir İnan, a known figure in the organized crime syndicate who has a long criminal record, in exchange for money. When they were caught, they blamed Hizmet for their crimes. Inan, listed as a suspect in the indictment, was not investigated in relation to the theft of the police car.

Akşit first agreed to testify against other suspects and blame Hizmet in exchange for dropping the theft and other charges against him. But he later notified the prosecutor conducting the investigation that he had changed his testimony because the promises were not fulfilled.

In the indictment, Akşit's letter in which he blew the whistle on a government plot on Hizmet was not included and the prosecutor who was originally assigned to investigate his plot claims was later dismissed.

Akşit is now among seven suspects listed in the indictment.

In a bizarre twist, the indictment charged medical doctor Nebil Ark, who works as an ear, nose and throat specialist at Turgut Özal University hospital, as the leader of the group.

It listed no evidence, however, linking Ark to other suspects who denied that they ever knew the doctor. In his deposition, Ark also denied all charges and said he did not know any police officers mentioned in the indictment.

Uncovering details of the plot against Hizmet, Akşit was detained on Aug. 8, 2014, and interrogated by two high-ranking police chiefs, Erdinç Elpe and Murat Çelik.

According to information provided by Akşit, he was coerced into testifying against the Hizmet movement and threatened with dismissal if he did not act in accordance with the two police chiefs' demands that he present fabricated evidence during his testimony.

Upon receiving the threats, Akşit agreed to testify that a number of police chiefs and officers as well as civilians were plotting against the government.

However, despite the fact that Akşit testified in line with the demands of the two police chiefs, the promise to release Akşit was not kept and he was arrested under the pretense of the original accusations against him.

Following the arrest, Akşit wrote a three-page explanatory letter to the prosecutor, saying: “I gave the testimony under pressure and threats from the two police officers and was [coerced into] making accusations against the people I named in the testimony. I actually do not know [anyone named] Dr. Nebil [Ark], [but] I mentioned him in my testimony. I just read his name in line with the instructions the police chiefs gave to me.”

Akşit has filed a complaint about Elpe and Çelik.

In his letter to the prosecutor, Akşit wrote that he was forced to slander Hizmet and testify against the movement as a secret witness in the investigation into the so-called "parallel structure" and its members. He also maintains that he was threatened with dismissal if he resisted testifying against the movement.

After Akşit was assured that he would be released from police custody, he was asked to sign a list that named certain individuals and members of the police force allegedly affiliated with Hizmet; his signature would indicate that the list was part of his testimony. While Akşit read the text, a police officer took notes about what Akşit was doing.

The testimony includes the allegation that each police officer listed in the testimony donated TL 250-500 per month to the Hizmet movement. After Akşit signed the testimony, he was sent to the prosecutor's office, arrested and put in prison.

Akşit realized that he had been deceived by the police chiefs and their promises to release him would not be fulfilled, so he decided to reveal the plot against the Hizmet movement. Upon receiving the letter, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Tayfun Kaya launched an investigation into Elpe and Çelik.

In his letter to Kaya, Akşit stated that he has no ties to Hizmet. He wrote: "After I was detained, I was forced to testify against the movement. All information in the testimony text was written by the police chiefs and given to me. None of the information about the movement reflects the truth. I did not suffer at all [because of] the movement during my time [as a police officer]. I have made a complaint against the two police chiefs who put pressure on me to testify against the movement.”

When a massive corruption investigation into the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) became public on Dec. 17, 2013, the AK Party responded to the graft allegations by removing police officers and members of the judiciary from their current positions and reappointing them to less influential posts or expelling them completely whenever possible. Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims that a "parallel structure" affiliated with Hizmet is behind the corruption probe and seeks to overthrow his government, although he has produced no proof to support this claim. Several businessmen close to the government as well as the sons of three ministers were detained in the investigation on Dec. 17.

However, the probe was stalled since the government took the prosecutors conducting it off the case in response to the allegations leveled against it and it was later discontinued after government-friendly prosecutors took over the case.

Published on Today's Zaman, 10 April 2015, Friday