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Turkey Presses Ahead With Campaign Targeting Gulen Network

Turkey Presses Ahead With Campaign Targeting Gulen Network

Saturday, 3 March, 2018 - 08:15
US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, US July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
Ankara- Said Abdul Razek
Turkish prosecutors ordered the arrest of 154 people including navy officers, teachers and unionists over alleged links to the Islamic preacher accused of orchestrating a 2016 attempted coup, state media said on Friday.

Police launched operations across five provinces to detain 16 naval officers, seven of them serving and nine previously expelled from the armed forces, over links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Anadolu news agency reported.

In a separate investigation, the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office ordered the arrest across Turkey of 66 teachers, previously removed from their posts, over links to Gulen’s movement, Anadolu said.

It said 72 officials from a labor union confederation which had been closed under a government decree were also set to be detained in a third probe across more than a dozen provinces.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement in the July 2016 failed putsch in which more than 240 people were killed.

Under a crackdown since then, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial over alleged links to Gulen, while 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Meanwhile, a Turkish court in the Kurdish city of Sanliurfa sentenced opposition lawmaker Dilek Ocalan to two years and six months in prison after finding her guilty of "terrorist propaganda."

Ocalan, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is the niece of the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) founder, Abdullah Ocalan.

Kurdistan 24's Diyarbakir bureau reported that Sanliurfa's central criminal court, known in Turkey as a heavy penal court, deemed her attendance at a 2016 funeral for fallen PKK fighter Mehmet Yilmaz a crime. Ocalan was not present at the sentencing.

Prosecutors were demanding up to five years in jail for her "behavior during the funeral procession that condoned violent acts by the terrorist organization."

A speech she delivered in Kurdish while at the funeral was also presented as evidence during the trial.

The same court is also trying MP Osman Baydemir for attending the same funeral, in Sanliurfa's Viransehir district, and, like Ocalan, for a speech he made while there.

His lawyers said they needed time for defense, an argument the judge approved, postponing his trial.

In a related development, a Turkish court handed an additional jail term to prominent journalist Ahmet Altan for terrorism charges on Wednesday, state media said, two weeks after he was sentenced to life in prison in a case that has drawn international censure of Ankara.

Altan, his brother and four other journalists were sentenced this month for aiding plotters of a 2016 failed coup, charges they deny. The Altan brothers were accused of giving coded messages on a television talk show a day before the coup attempt.

The verdict drew criticism from rights groups and international bodies, including the United Nations. Since the coup more than 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

On Wednesday, a court sentenced Altan to a total of five years and 11 months on two different charges related to an article he wrote for the Haberdar news website, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The court ruled the language he used to describe the Kurdish conflict in southeast Turkey - where he wrote of“children” digging trenches to fight Turkish soldiers - attempted to portray the actions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as innocent, Anadolu said.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, has waged a three-decade insurgency in the largely Kurdish southeast.

The court also ruled the same article had insulted Erdogan, Anadolu said. Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey.

Hours after the verdict was announced, Britain’s Guardian newspaper published an open letter signed by 38 Nobel laureates, including Kazuo Ishiguro and J.M. Coetzee, addressed to President Tayyip Erdogan. It described the evidence against the Altan brothers and the four others who were sentenced to life as“insubstantial”.

“All these writers had spent their careers opposing coups and militarism of any sort, and yet were charged with aiding an armed terrorist organization and staging a coup,” it said, calling for their acquittal and Turkey’s return to rule of law.

Altan, a well-known journalist and author who had previously been editor of the now-defunct liberal newspaper Taraf, was detained for some 17 months before his life sentence was handed down this month.

“We will spend the rest of our lives alone in a cell that is three meters long and three meters wide. We will be taken out to see sunlight for one hour a day,” he wrote in a New York Times essay published on Wednesday.

“We will never be pardoned and we will die in a prison cell.”

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