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HRW says thousands of Gülen followers in Turkish prisons on bogus terrorism charges

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The arrest of thousands of people in Turkey due to their links to the faith-based Gülen movement is highlighted in the latest report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which described the arrests as based on bogus terrorism charges.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and is labelled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

“Alongside prominent figures held for years in arbitrary detention are thousands of people also held on bogus terrorism charges for alleged links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which Turkey deems a terrorist organization,” HRW said in its World Report 2021.

Fethullah Gülen is a US-based Muslim cleric whose views have inspired the movement, which has been subjected to an unprecedented crackdown since the coup attempt.

According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in November, a total of 292,000 people have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the Gülen movement.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

In its report HRW also talked about the continuing detention in 2020 of prominent figures including Osman Kavala, a human rights defender; Ahmet Altan, a writer; Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, former co-chairs of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); and many other former parliament members, mayors and other officials from that party, saying that these arrest are “evidence of Turkey’s lack of an independent judiciary and that prosecutorial and court decisions are indexed to the Erdoğan government’s political decisions.”

Kavala and Demirtaş are behind bars on politically motivated charges despite rulings from the European Court of Human Rights for their immediate release.

In its report, HRW also criticized the Turkish government for using the coronavirus pandemic to deepen autocratic rule in the country by silencing critics and rapidly passing restrictive new laws to limit dissent.

In 2020 Turkish authorities used the pretext of the pandemic to ban demonstrations by opposition parties and government critics and to target critics of the government, said the rights group.

“The Covid-19 pandemic became a pretext for the Erdoğan government to double down on autocratic rule and stamp out criticism and opposition at the expense of uniting the country during a public health crisis,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The international focus on Turkey’s foreign policy should not be allowed to overshadow the assault on democratic safeguards at home, which accelerated during 2020.”

In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries.

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