December 27, 2015

Gov’t witch hunt escalates across Turkey in 2015

A number of businessmen, teachers, police officers, press members and philanthropists across Turkey have been dismissed from their jobs, detained or arrested, as government-initiated witch hunt operations targeting the faith-based Gülen movement escalated in 2015.

The operations started after a corruption investigation was made public on Dec. 17, 2013. The graft probe implicated then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, members of his family and senior Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figures.

Since then, Erdoğan has targeted followers of the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a grassroots initiative inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. He claimed that sympathizers of the movement within the police department had fabricated the graft scandal and accused them of plotting to overthrow his government.

Although the movement has strongly rejected the allegations brought against it, Erdoğan promised a war against the movement in May 2014 and infamously said that he would even carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with any link to the movement if necessary. He publicly advised AK Party supporters not to send their children to schools inspired by the movement, vowing, “We will not even give water [to the movement's sympathizers].” Erdoğan has also ordered officials in AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings linked to the Gülen movement by any means necessary.

As the government-initiated police operations against the “parallel state” -- a term invented by Erdoğan to refer to alleged sympathizers of the Gülen movement within the state bureaucracy -- gathered momentum in 2015, numerous people were dismissed from their jobs, detained or arrested.

Hazim Sesli, a leading businessman in Turkey's western province of Uşak, was arrested in October after he was detained on charges of being a member of the so-called "parallel structure." A total of 25 individuals, including prominent businessmen, were detained as part of the operation. Four of the 25 detainees -- including Sesli -- were arrested.

Kenan Ünal, a businessman whose experience contributed to facilitating the construction of a Turkish school in Mongolia, was arrested on charges of providing financial support to the so-called “parallel state” on the same day.

Ünal's brother, Ramazan Ünal, criticized the arrest and said: “We went there [to Mongolia] to promote our country with a number of high state officials. President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan accompanied us. I don't know what else to say.”

A total of 26 people, including lawyers, educators and philanthropists, were detained in Manisa on Nov. 10, also on charges of providing financial support to the “parallel structure.”

The operation became controversial when images of two headscarved women being escorted to police cars in handcuffs made the rounds on social media. After reaction mounted, the government ordered an investigation into the use of handcuffs, which legal experts agree was unnecessary and critics say was aimed at intimidating and publicly humiliating the detainees.

After all 26 detainees were released in several groups in the following days, seven of them were once again detained and arrested a week later. One of them was 56-year-old Şemsettin Ayyıldız, a teacher of a Culture of Religion and Knowledge of Morality course. In response to his arrest, Ayyıldız said: “I even pass a knife to family members while holding the sharp end so as not to frighten anyone. And here I am being arrested on terrorism charges.” After Ayyıldız's arrest, his wife, Elif, criticized the way police officers treated him, saying he wasn't even allowed to take his heart medication with him.

Former AK Party deputy İlhan İşbilen and two others were arrested in December after being detained as part of an operation against the so-called “parallel structure,” while detention warrants were issued for as many as 65 people as part of the same investigation. Many former AK Party deputies spoke out against İşbilen's arrest, with Hasan Hami Yıldırım saying he is the last person who should be accused of terrorism or membership in a terrorist organization. Former Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay told Today's Zaman that then-Prime Minister Erdoğan had spoken highly of İşbilen. “I was introduced to İşbilen in 2011 as a very decent, nice and knowledgeable man. Erdoğan himself spoke highly of him. Not just me, but everybody in Parliament knew Mr. İşbilen as someone who respects the Constitution and Parliament's bylaws,” Günay said.

Armed police raid daycare center in Zonguldak

Operations carried out in Gülen-inspired schools were extended to daycare centers in August, with police officers accompanied by inspectors from several government bodies conducting raids on the private kindergarten Gonca, established in Zonguldak by movement volunteers, on Aug. 7.

Many experts criticized the raid, saying that it might cause the young children in the kindergarten to suffer psychological trauma triggered by witnessing the police raiding their schools. Adem Güneş, a professor in Fatih University's psychological counseling and guidance department, told Today's Zaman that no one with guns in their hands should be near children. “Witnessing a raid carried out on a school that a child is attached to hurts that child's feelings and [negatively] impacts his perspective on life,” Güneş added.

Investigation launched into Turkish charity Kimse Yok Mu

In April, an investigation was launched by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office against the prominent charity organization Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There) on charges of terrorism, which has also been met with strong reactions from experts that questioned how a charity can be accused of terrorism for delivering aid to those in need.

Criticizing the terrorism investigation of the charity, Kimse Yok Mu lawyer Muhittin Yılmaz said targeting a charity that has become the pride of Turkey for its charitable activities around the world shows the extent to which the Turkish judiciary has deteriorated. Pointing to a court decision ordering that the investigation against Kimse Yok Mu remain confidential, the lawyer said the gag order shows that the investigation file is empty, adding that it gives the impression that the prosecutor is trying to formulate a crime rather than investigate an existing one.

Trustees appointed to Koza İpek, Kaynak Holdings

Companies belonging to Koza İpek Holding were raided on Sept. 9 by police seeking financial documents after a court issued a search warrant. The Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), which conducted the raids, failed to find any illegal activities or transactions after thoroughly investigating the holding's files and records.

However, on Oct. 26, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office ordered that Koza İpek Holding be placed under the management of a trustee panel while an investigation continues looking into the group's purported ties to US-based scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is currently wanted for “being the head of and managing a terror organization.”

Two days after the court decision, riot police stormed the headquarters of the İpek Media Group in İstanbul as journalists from the paper tried in vain to prevent them from entering the building. Moreover, trustees appointed to the boards of directors of the companies that make up Koza İpek Holding turned out to be either members or supporters of the AK Party, despite the fact that such trustees are required to be independent and objective.

Less than a month after the seizure of Koza İpek Holding, a similar decision was made concerning Kaynak Holding, a group that consists of 23 companies, and trustees were appointed. Kaynak Holding employs more than 8,000 people, and owns the largest publishing house in Turkey, Kaynak Publishing House, and the NT Mağazaları nationwide bookstore chain among a total of 100 publishing brands.

In one of the latest gov't-led moves against the Gülen movement, seven trustees were appointed to the Ufuk Publishing House on Dec. 25 over a connection to Kaynak Holding. The trustees were appointed after 15 police officers from the İstanbul Police Department's Financial Crimes Unit conducted a search at the publishing house on Dec. 23.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on the company's link to Kaynak Holding, Ufuk Publishing General Manager Bülent Kaynaroğlu said: “The only contact we have with Kaynak Holding is to purchase supplies. I don't know how they made a connection between our company and Kaynak Holding before a day had even passed after police took copies of our computer hard drives. The examination of the drives was obviously a sham because it would be impossible for them to find evidence backing their claims in such a short period of time.”

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 27 December 2015, Sunday