November 21, 2015

Gov’t witch hunt against Gülen movement in Eskişehir and Manisa suffers backlash

Detentions and arrests of citizens, including human rights defenders, philanthropists, teachers, businessmen and housewives, in Eskişehir and Manisa provinces, as part of an escalating government witch hunt against the faith-based Gülen movement last week, suffered a backlash when people reacted negatively to the unlawful practice of handcuffing non-resistant detainees.

On Nov. 10, police officers handcuffed 26 people including lawyers, educators and headscarved women and paraded them on the street until they were escorted to police cars in an operation carried out against the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement and inspired by the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The detentions were based on the charge of providing financial support to the “parallel structure,” a term invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Hizmet movement.

After a number of well-known figures and large numbers of people on Facebook and Twitter criticized the unlawful practice of handcuffing non-resistant detainees, the Interior Ministry announced on Nov. 11 that Manisa Police Chief Tayfur Erdal Ceren was suspended from his position. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also ordered an investigation into the police officers who took part in the operation for acting against laws and procedures during the detention of suspects in the operation.

Upon Davutoğlu's remarks, acting Interior Minister Selami Altınok appointed inspectors to look into the way Manisa Governor Erdoğan Bektaş handled the public backlash against the handcuffing of two women detained in the province.

The handcuffed images of the suspects, in particular those of headscarf-wearing women, sparked public outcry, mainly because police procedure requires that handcuffs be placed on suspects only when they might flee or pose a physical threat to the safety of the police. Two headscarf-wearing women, M.H.E. and K.E., who were released after their statements were taken at the Manisa Police Department on Wednesday, were taken for a second medical examination at Manisa State Hospital at around 5 a.m. on Nov. 12, this time with no handcuffs on.

Releasing a written statement to explain the reasons behind the suspension of the police chief on Nov. 11, Governor Bektaş stated, “Subjecting anyone who has not been proven guilty by any legal process, especially headscarved women, who are viewed so positively by society, to such unwarranted and terrible treatment has disturbed many people in society.”

The governor's statement also sparked public outcry for its discriminatory nature. Prime Minister Davutoğlu said the governor “went beyond his aim” with the controversial remarks. When Minister Altınok announced the appointment of inspectors to investigate the conduct of officials in Manisa, Governor Bektaş apologized on Nov. 13 for his remarks saying, "I apologize to all citizens, especially to women, for [my] use of ill-suited language."

The inspectors will examine whether a formal investigation should be launched against Bektaş.

Out of 48 people who were detained in operations conducted in a number of provinces, including Bursa, Diyarbakır, Eskişehir, İstanbul, Kayseri, Manisa and Tokat, late on Nov. 9 and early on Nov. 10, three were arrested in Manisa and four others in Eskişehir pending trial on charges of providing financial support to alleged members of the “parallel structure.”

Since Turkey's largest corruption investigation was made public on Dec. 17, 2013, after police operations in the homes and offices of people from the inner circle of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Erdoğan and the AK Party leadership have accused sympathizers of the Gülen movement, especially those in the police forces and judiciary, of plotting to overthrow the government. The movement strongly rejects the allegations brought against it.

Since the scandal, a number of business groups, media outlets, aid organizations, civil society organizations, universities, private schools and prep schools that were established by people sympathetic to the Gülen movement have been targeted by government-orchestrated police raids, investigations and witch hunts.

Erdoğan openly announced on several occasions after December 2013 that he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. He has also ordered officials in AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings belonging to the institutions which are linked with the Gülen movement by any means necessary. In May 2014, Erdoğan publicly advised AK Party supporters not to send their children to schools affiliated with the movement, vowing, “We will not even give water [to the movement's members].”

Arrest and detention orders for people who are sympathizers of the Gülen movement or critical of the government are mostly given by project courts which were established by an order of then-Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan in July 2014. Erdoğan stated in a press conference on July 20, 2014 that penal judges of peace had been assigned to deal with trials involving the parallel structure. “A trial [involving Hizmet] is set to begin soon. The trial will be handled by penal judges of peace. All evidence collected so far has proven that the parallel structure is a fact, not a rumor,” Erdoğan said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 November 2015, Saturday