April 30, 2015

AK Party government intensifies pressure on CSOs by criminalizing them

Teams from the Manisa Police Department's anti-terrorism unit conducted simultaneous raids on five civil society organization (CSOs) in the western province of Manisa early on Thursday in the latest of a series of government-backed raids targeting the faith-based Gülen movement -- also known as the Hizmet movement -- inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

A total of five CSOs -- the Manisa Workers Union (MAÇAD), the Manisa Education Volunteers Union (MEGDER), the Manisa Active Educators Association (AKED), the Manisa Millennium Public Servants Association and the Industrialists and Businessmen of Manisa (MASİAD) -- were raided by dozens of police officers in the early hours of Thursday morning based on “reasonable suspicion” that they had committed crimes. During the search, many police officers stood outside the building to provide additional security and barred journalists from entering the building to report on the search. The police also reportedly seized certain documents for examination.

Osmaniye Police Chief Tayfur Erdal Ceren justified the raids afterwards, calling the CSOs terrorist groups. “Those who provide financial assistance to these CSOs must understand that they are providing assistance to terrorist groups,” Ceren said to the press. However, Ceren's remarks have drawn ire due to the complete lack of concrete evidence that the groups have links with terrorists.

The police raid was made possible by a controversial legal amendment passed in December 2014 that enables the authorities to arrest anyone whose case presents “reasonable suspicion” and not necessarily based on tangible evidence. The police are not only able to easily search any individual, their home and vehicle but also easily seize the property of all so-called dissidents on the grounds that there is “reasonable suspicion” that they have committed a crime against the government.

This is not the first police raid on an NGO in Manisa. On April 8, anti-terrorism teams entered and searched the Manisa Technical Workers Association (MATED) based on “reasonable suspicion.”

Menderes Hırçıner, the association's lawyer, told the private Cihan news agency that there are no documents or evidence to make an investigation necessary, despite it being ordered by the Manisa Criminal Court of Peace. “While they [the government] claim to be making strides to democratize and liberate [our country], anti-democratic practices are swiftly being signed off. They are not hunting down real terrorists but are instead leaving them on the ground [letting them remain free], but an association with no ties to terrorists is being searched here today,” stated Hırçıner.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 April 2015, Thursday