Turkey’s Crackdown on the Gülen movement: 2021 in Review
The Gülen movement is a worldwide civic initiative rooted in the spiritual and humanistic tradition of Islam and inspired by the ideas and activism of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric resident in the US. The bases of the movement are diverse service projects that are initiated, funded and conducted by people who are motivated by Gülen’s humanitarian discourse.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation.
Some of the claims that were part of the corruption investigations were later substantiated in New York federal court where Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was sentenced to 32 months for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran and other offenses.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Following the failed coup, the Turkish government carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including over 4,000 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
Such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institution linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines were accepted as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged members of the movement.
According to a statement from the Turkish interior minister, a total of 319,587 people have been detained while 99,962 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup.
During the year Erdoğan continued to relentlessly pursue anyone with alleged links with the movement. They have been targets of hate speech, hate crimes, unlawful prosecution, torture and abductions among other serious human rights violations.
Here is some of the most important news from 2021 concerning Erdoğan’s crackdown on the Gülen movement:
Decisions and reports by international organizations and foreign governments
Vague terrorism charge used to target supporters of the Gülen movement: UN special rapporteurs
The vague and imprecise charge of “membership in an armed terrorist organization” appears to be repeatedly misused to target critics of the Turkish government’s policies and to criminalize the legitimate activities of supporters of the Gülen movement, said the vice chair of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and three special rapporteurs in a letter to the Turkish government. More..
UN working group found detention of individuals with alleged Gülen links arbitrary in 2 separate cases
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in two separate cases that the arrest and detention of individuals with alleged ties to the Gülen movement were arbitrary and urged the Turkish government to ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding their detention and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of their rights. More..
Closure of trade unions, dismissal of workers over Gülen links violated freedom to associate, right to organize, UN body said
The International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency setting labor standards, decided in May that the Turkish government violated UN conventions on labor by closing down trade unions and dismissing workers over alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. More..
European court ruled Turkey violated ex-police officer’s rights over ByLock use
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in July faulted Turkey over the pre-trial detention of a former police officer due to his alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone application, seen by Turkish authorities as a sign of terrorist organization membership. More..
Some 95,000 people were arrested or convicted on terrorism charges due to their alleged use of ByLock.
ECtHR condemned Turkey over post-coup arrests of judges and prosecutors
The ECtHR in November ruled that Turkey had acted unlawfully by arresting more than 400 judges and prosecutors after a failed 2016 coup against President Erdoğan. More..
Praising Gülen movement before 2016 coup attempt not a crime, ECtHR said
The ECtHR in December faulted Turkey for violating the right to freedom of expression of a former teacher, stating that public comments in favor of the Gülen movement made before a coup attempt in July 2016 do not constitute a crime. More..
Turkey detains, arrests people for Gülen links on basis of scant evidence: US report
Turkish government continues to detain and arrest Turks over alleged links to the Gülen movement, “often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process,” the US Department of State said in the Turkey section of its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020.” More..
US report highlighted Turkey’s crackdown on Gülen movement after coup attempt
A report by the US State Department regarding a series of “significant human rights issues” in Turkey highlighted the crackdown launched by President Erdoğan’s government on the faith-based Gülen movement, which intensified following an attempted coup in 2016. More..
319,587 people detained, 99,962 arrested in terrorism operations against the Gülen movement
A total of 319,587 people have been detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in November. More..
29,444 military members dismissed as part of Turkey’s post-coup purge
A total of 29,444 military members have been dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), gendarmerie and the coast guard in a post-coup purge that started after an abortive putsch in July 2016, the pro-government Sabah daily reported in May. More..
Report shed light on algorithm used to persecute alleged members of Gülen movement in Turkish Armed Forces
More than 13,000 Turkish military personnel have been dismissed since July 2016 on the basis of an algorithm used by the authorities to assess the alleged “terrorist” credentials or connections of military officers and their relatives in violation of multiple human rights, a report published by the UK-based, non-profit Statewatch revealed in November. More..
More than 750 former cadets detained in Turkey as they turned 18
More than 750 former military cadets were detained between January and October 2021 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement as they turned 18 years of age. More..
Then-and-now photos of dismissed public servants revealed extent of Turkey’s purge
Former public servants in May revealed on Twitter the extent of Turkey’s post-coup purge by sharing “then-and-now photographs” of them in their new jobs as day laborers and blue-collar workers. More..
Anti-Gülenist witch-hunt reached new levels, with dozens arrested for ‘spreading COVID-19 across Turkey’
Police in May detained 84 members of the movement in operations across 14 provinces for allegedly spreading the coronavirus, providing financial support to the families of people who are behind bars on alleged Gülen links and suspicious communication with each other on the Internet and through online games. More..
Turkey’s top judicial body disbarred 13 judges, prosecutors over Gülen links
Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) in October disbarred 10 prosecutors and three judges due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Adnan Şeker, a lawyer whose clients included US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, was convicted in June of membership in a terrorist organization by an Ankara court and sentenced to nine years, nine months’ imprisonment. More..
Story of teacher-turned-butcher revealed extent of Turkey’s post-coup purge
The story of Cafer Altıkardeş, a former geography teacher fired from his job by an emergency decree who lost half his index finger while working to survive as a butcher, revealed the extent of Turkey’s post-coup purge. More..
Hate speech and discrimination
Erdoğan supporters discussed on Clubhouse how to exterminate political prisoners, suggested putting poison in their food
In August and November audio records of chatrooms on social media app Clubhouse revealed a conversation among supporters of Turkish President Erdoğan on how to exterminate alleged followers of the Gülen movement who are currently in Turkish prisons. More..
Twitter’s lawyer in Turkey tweeted hate speech against Gülen movement
Lawyer Gönenç Gürkaynak, who represents Twitter in Turkey, used hate speech against supporters of the Gülen movement in a series of tweets in October, asking if they ever consider exterminating themselves. More..
Senior AKP figure targeted Gülen movement supporters in hate speech
Mücahit Birinci, a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s 50-seat Central Decision and Executive Board, targeted supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement during a news show in November, calling them demons and promising to make life unbearable for them everywhere in the world. More..
Pro-Erdoğan propagandist calls for extermination of Gülen movement followers
Fatih Tezcan, a pro-Erdoğan propagandist, in August said on a live YouTube broadcast that followers of the Gülen movement should be massacred right away and that “it would be a waste” to use rat poison to kill them. More..
New York mosque funded by Turkish gov’t denied religious services for Gülen movement supporter
The Brooklyn Eyup Sultan Mosque, which is funded and operated by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), in July denied religious services for deceased Turkish-American businessman Muharrem Atmaca due to his links to the Gülen movement. More..
Justice Ministry formed committees to identify employees with Gülen links, official document revealed
An official document shared on Twitter in December by a former prosecutor showed how the Turkish Justice Ministry formed committees to identify employees with links to the faith-based Gülen movement in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016. More..
Another set of official documents showed how Ministry of Health bureaucrats profiled alleged followers of the movement. More..
University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links
Ünzile Köşker, who was jailed for alleged links to the Gülen movement, was not allowed to enroll at a university despite passing the nationwide entrance exam because she “posed a risk.” More..
Torture and inhuman treatment
Acts of torture, enforced disappearances in Turkey could amount to crimes against humanity, tribunal judges said
The judges of the Turkey Tribunal, a civil society-led, symbolic international tribunal, in September announced their verdict on recent human rights violations in Turkey, saying that the torture and abductions perpetrated by Turkish state officials since July 2016 could amount to crimes against humanity in an application lodged with an appropriate international body. More..
I was electrocuted, beaten and made impotent, said torture victim who shared his ordeal
Ayhan Demir, 45, said he was made impotent as a result of the sexual torture and electrocution he was subjected to during his detention in the Mersin Police Department’s counterterrorism unit in September 2016, due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Abducted and tortured, educator İnandı gave details of his ordeal at first hearing of his trial
Orhan İnandı, a Turkish-Kyrgyz educator rendered to Turkey from Kyrgyzstan by Turkish intelligence, said at his first court hearing in November that he was tortured while in custody. More..
Top Turkish court ruled former teacher was tortured in police custody
Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled on May 18, 2021 that a former teacher arrested for links to the Gülen movement was tortured in detention and his rights violated. More..
The top court also in September fined the government for torture in Afyon province, demanding an investigation into the perpetrators. More..
Former bureaucrat missing for 9 months turned up in Ankara prison
Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, a former Turkish bureaucrat who had been missing since late 2020 and was suspected of being a victim of enforced disappearance, was found in an Ankara prison. His daughter Nursena Küçüközyiğit said in September that her grandmother received a call from a police officer informing her of her father’s whereabouts.
After a visit to her father, Nursena said he had lost a significant amount of weight. More..
‘I am tired of waiting,’ said father of Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who disappeared 29 months ago
“The authorities aren’t doing anything to find my son, and I’m tired of waiting,” said Mustafa Tunç, father of Yusuf Bilge Tunç, a former bureaucrat who disappeared in Ankara on August 6, 2019 in broad daylight, leaving no trace behind. More..
Children of the purge: death, disease and separation
9-year-old Turkish girl drowns while trying to cross Evros River
Nine-year-old Nurefşan Teke drowned in March while trying to cross the Evros River with her mother Neslihan in order to reunite with her father, who had to flee Turkey five years earlier due to an ongoing government crackdown on alleged members of the Gülen movement. More..
5-year-old girl succumbed to cancer without saying goodbye to her jailed father
Five-year-old Kübra Kuzan died of cancer in February without being able to see her father, a former bureaucrat removed from his job and jailed due to alleged links to Gülen movement, one last time after the authorities denied his request to visit her. More..
Gov’t denied assistance to autistic teen due to father’s alleged links to Gülen movement
A district governor’s office in Hatay province refused to provide assistance to the family of Rüveyda Tekgöz, a 16-year-old autistic girl, because her father was fired from his job due to alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Disabled girl forced to leave special needs school due to father’s links to Gülen movement died
Nurefşan Ketenci, a young girl with major disabilities who had been forced to leave a public special needs school in Turkey because her father used to work for an institution that was shut down by a government decree for its affiliation with the Gülen movement, died in July. More..
11-year-old autistic boy succumbed to heart disease without saying goodbye to his jailed father
Ömer Faruk Turan, 11, died of heart failure in December without being able to say goodbye to his father, who had been in prison for the past four-and-a-half years on terrorism charges over alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Turkey’s post-coup crackdown left 2 more children separated from parents
Ekrem, a one-and-a-half-year-old toddler, and his four-year-old sister Zülal became separated from not just one but both of their parents in January when their mother was arrested as part of a crackdown in Turkey targeting followers of the faith-based Gülen movement. More..
With both parents in prison for Gülen links, neighbors helped care for 11-year-old cancer patient
Sabriye Dağdeviren, the mother of 11-year-old leukemia patient Hakan, said her son was at times cared for by their neighbors during his treatment at the hospital because his grandmother also needs to tend to her 90-year-old mother. More..
2 toddlers left to care of grandparents after both parents jailed over Gülen links
Murat, 29 months old, and Fatih Demir, 4, were left to the care of their grandparents after their parents were imprisoned in May due to alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Mother of special needs child was detained over alleged Gülen links
Zeybegül Yılmaz, mother of a 5-year-old special needs child, was detained in July for alleged links to the Gülen movement. Yılmaz’s son suffers from developmental problems and needs constant care. Salih’s father was convicted of the same charges and is in prison. More..
Parents of 8-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy started serving sentences on Gülen link convictions
The mother and father of an 8-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy were arrested in Edirne in August to serve prison sentences handed down for alleged links to the Gülen movement. The couple also have an 18-month-old daughter. The children were sent to live with their grandparents. More..
Woman suffering from cancer left to take care of disabled son alone after husband’s arrest
A woman suffering from cancer said in a letter in December she had been struggling to take care of her disabled son since the jailing of her husband for his alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Caregiver of autistic teenager suffering from epilepsy arrested for Gülen links
Eyüp Çetin, the father and caregiver of a 15-year-old autistic boy suffering from epilepsy and hypotonia, a muscle disease, was arrested in December over his alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Arrest of pregnant women and mothers with infants
Woman faced detention over alleged Gülen links immediately after giving birth
Hacer Yıldırım, who gave birth in the early hours of the new year in the Turkish capital city of Ankara, faced detention due to her alleged links to the Gülen movement. A photo from the hospital showed police officers waiting at Yıldırım’s hospital room, waiting to detain her. More..
Pregnant woman sent to prison over Gülen links despite regulations
Huriye Acun, a seven month pregnant former teacher, was arrested in July and sent to prison to serve the sentence she was handed down due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement. More..
Pregnant woman kept in prison for 6 months over Gülen links despite regulations
Arzu Nur Özkan, a former teacher, was kept in prison for six months for alleged links to the Gülen movement despite being pregnant. Özkan was released a month before her due date following intense public pressure. More..
Former judge with 6-month-old baby sent to prison in defiance of legal provisions
Esra Çiçeklidağ, a former judge dismissed from her job by a government decree, was arrested in November in violation of a Turkish law that requires the postponement of the execution of prison sentences for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last year and a half. More..
9-month-old infant forced to accompany mother in prison quarantine cell
A 9-month-old baby had to accompany her mother, Yasemin Melizci, 29, in a prison quarantine cell in January, sparking criticism from human rights activists. Although the Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures stipulates that the “execution of the prison sentence is delayed for women who are pregnant or have given birth within the last 18 months,” Turkish authorities have been arresting mothers with children as young as 1 month old. More..
Turkish authorities unlawfully arrested woman with twins over alleged Gülen links
Turkish authorities in April arrested Merve Hande Kayış, the mother of three children including 13-month-old twins, for alleged links to the Gülen movement in violation of the country’s laws. More..
Turkish authorities unlawfully arrested pregnant woman on alleged Gülen links
Emel Top Bayraktar, 29, a research assistant at Bingöl University in eastern Turkey, was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement in April, despite being in the early stages of pregnancy. More..
Pregnant woman unlawfully arrested in Antalya for aiding families of post-coup victims
A pregnant woman was unlawfully arrested in September for helping the families of individuals targeted by a post-coup crackdown in Turkey. More..
2 more infants joined their mother in Turkish prison
In May 3-month-old Mehmet Mirza and 1-year-old Ahmet Ümit went with their mother, who was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement, to prison. More..
2.5-year-old child accompanied mother in Turkish prison after both parents arrested
Melek Cesur, who was arrested in December to serve her six-year, three-month prison sentence for alleged links to the Gülen movement, had to take her two-and-a-half-year-old with her after her husband was also arrested. More..
Mother of 19-month-old sent to prison with her toddler over Gülen links
Rukiye Güler, a homemaker with three children, was sent to prison in March to serve a six-year, three month sentence for alleged links to the Gülen movement, accompanied by her 19-month-old daughter. More..
345 children under the age of 6 in prison with their mothers in Turkey
A total of 345 children under the age of 6 are accompanying their mothers in Turkish prisons, and they receive the same treatment as inmates, according to a study by the Right to Life Association. More..
Ailing prisoners denied proper care
Turkish authorities arrested disabled bomb disposal expert on terrorism conviction
Bilal Konakçı, a bomb disposal expert with the police who lost his hand and was blinded in an explosion, was arrested in February after Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a conviction and sentence handed down on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization. More..
Ailing 84-year-old imprisoned after appeals court upheld politically motivated conviction
Nusret Muğla, 84, who suffers from multiple health problems, was arrested in January after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a previous conviction that was based on politically motivated charges. More..
Critically ill woman sent to prison after authorities refused to postpone her sentence
Turkish authorities in October refused to postpone the execution of the prison sentence of critically ill Ayşe Özdoğan, who was arrested and sent to prison on a terrorism conviction. More..
82-year-old philanthropist with Alzheimer’s was forced to remain behind bars
Eighty-two-year-old businessman and philanthropist Yusuf Bekmezci remained behind bars despite serious health problems and advanced age. More..
Prosecutor dropped negligence charges in case of critically ill inmate released 2 weeks before death
The Silivri Public Prosecutor’s Office in March said there were no grounds for legal action in the case of Deniz Hakan Şen, an inmate who died of cancer after being denied timely treatment and was released only two weeks before his death, claiming “he would have died even if he had received treatment.” More..
Man arrested for Gülen links developed severe mental health problems in solitary cell
Akif Sarı, who was arrested for alleged links to the Gülen movement, developed severe psychological problems after being kept in a solitary cell for more than a year. More..
72-year-old man jailed over Gülen links not released despite suffering from heart failure
A 72-year-old man jailed for alleged links to the Gülen movement despite congestive heart failure was not released from prison and was scheduled to undergo heart surgery in December. More..
Turkish authorities denied release to critically ill cancer patient arrested on Gülen links
Yusuf Özmen, who was arrested in March to serve a sentence on a Gülen-linked conviction despite having stage 4 cancer, remained in prison despite a medical report saying he was almost totally disabled. More..
Late-stage cancer patient arrested over Gülen links
Refik Yeşil, 68, a late stage cancer patient, was arrested in December on terrorism charges for alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Inmate with cancer sent back to prison only a week after major surgery
Hakan Kanat, an inmate who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, was sent back to prison only a week after major surgery and made to stay in a quarantine cell. More..
Teacher suffering from cancer was jailed over alleged Gülen links
Fatımatüzzehra Babacan, a teacher struggling with thyroid cancer for the past 10 years, was imprisoned in August after an appeals court upheld her six year, three month prison sentence for membership in a terrorist organization. More..
Nurse started serving sentence on Gülen link conviction despite severe illness
Havva Dönmez, a nurse struggling with thyroid cancer for the past three years, was imprisoned in August after an appeals court upheld her six year, three month sentence for membership in a terrorist organization. More..
Mother of three suffering from thyroid cancer was arrested for Gülen links
Gülden Aşık, a mother of three who suffers from thyroid cancer, was arrested in September after being sentenced to six years, three months in prison for alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Ersoy Karamustafa, a former teacher arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in prison in February of COVID-19.
Önder Ateş, another former teacher arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in prison of COVID-19 in March.
Mustafa Çamaş, a prominent bioengineering professor fired from his job by a government decree in the aftermath of a July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, died in March at a construction site after a crane fell on him.
Alparslan Güngör, a former judge who was imprisoned for three years on alleged Gülen links and diagnosed with stage four lung cancer shortly after his release, died in April.
Abdülazim Özdemir, 49, an engineer who was diagnosed with liver cancer during his 24-month incarceration on terrorism charges due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in April.
Abdulvahit Tunçay, a former police officer who was fired in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 and was subsequently jailed, died of cancer in April after his belated release from prison.
Mehmet Şükrü Eken, a former brigadier general who was sentenced to life in prison over links to the Gülen movement and for “seeking to overthrow the government,” died of COVID-19 in April.
İsmet Torun, a businessman who was diagnosed with stomach cancer during his 38-month incarceration due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in Ankara in May after his release from prison.
Yeşim Coşkun, wife of Yusuf Coşkun, a former teacher who was arrested on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, died in May, leaving their children to be taken care of by relatives.
Şeref Vatansever, a former computer science teacher dismissed from his job during a post-coup purge in Turkey and jailed over Gülen movement links, died of COVID-19 in prison in May.
Emin Köseler, a teacher who was dismissed from his job on alleged links to the Gülen movement and later jailed on the same charges, succumbed to cancer in May.
Halil Şimşek, a dismissed academic arrested over alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in prison in May of COVID-19.
Ahmet Kaptan, a retired imam imprisoned on alleged links to the Gülen movement who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while in prison, succumbed to cancer in June.
Erkan Akıllı, a teacher who was convicted on terrorism charges due to his links to the Gülen movement, died in October, a few hours after crossing into Greece via the Evros River.
İbrahim Kılınç, who fled to Germany in search of a safer life after being sentenced to prison in Turkey for alleged links to the Gülen movement, died of a heart attack in October.
İhsan Yıldız, a former teacher imprisoned over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, died in October of cancer after he was released well after the cancer had advanced.
Yurdal Gökçe, a former police officer who was dismissed by an emergency decree after the coup attempt, died in November after falling from the roof of a building under construction where was working as a laborer.
Recep Yaya, a former teacher summarily dismissed from his job by an emergency decree after the coup attempt, took his own life in November.
Leyla Kurt, whose husband was imprisoned on conviction of alleged links to the Gülen movement, succumbed to cancer in December without being able to see her husband one last time.
Turkey’s Maarif Foundation took over 216 Gülen-linked schools in 44 countries, chairman said
Birol Akgün, chairman of Turkey’s Maarif Foundation, in March said during an online meeting that they had taken over 216 schools affiliated with the Gülen movement in 44 countries. More..
7 pro-gov’t foundations divided up 769 dormitories seized over Gülen links
Seven pro-government foundations in Turkey shared among themselves 769 of 848 student dormitories seized for affiliation with the Gülen movement since a coup attempt in 2016, documents shared by journalist Metin Cihan on Twitter in October revealed. More..
Appeals court upheld sentences given to İpek family members
A regional appeals court in May upheld prison sentences given to members of the İpek family, whose İpek Holding was seized by the Turkish government in 2015 due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement. More..
Turkish gov’t threatened to evict elderly woman from home she’s leaving to charity
The Turkish Directorate General of Foundations has requested that Ayşe Özer, 80, either pay five years of accumulated rent or vacate her home, which she bequeathed to a charitable foundation in her will. The foundation was shut down by a government decree after the coup attempt. More..
Source:Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF)
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