Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The trial of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen has begun in Istanbul on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Gülen and his supporters pushed for corruption probes in 2013 against then Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan, his family (especially his son Bilal) and some of Erdoğan's inner circle. The government denied the claims, which it said came from Gülen and his acolytes in the judiciary and police.
The cleric’s trial involves dozens of former police officers – including the former head of Istanbul police Yakup Saygili and the city's ex-deputy criminal police chief Kazim Aksoy. Both were in court at the start of the legal proceedings.
From his sanctuary in Pennsylvania, Gülen has claimed his innocence, rejecting the charges. In Turkey, his supporters have also backed his stance. Washington, meanwhile, has refused an extradition request from Ankara.
Fethullah Gülen was tried in absentia in Turkey in 2000 and acquitted in 2008 thanks to the protection provided by the Erdoğan government. Now the former ally has become his main accuser.
Last year, on the eve of presidential elections Turkish police launched a probe into the Gülen's movement, called Hizmet (Service).
Written orders sent to police in 30 provinces described the movement as planning to seize control of the state and change the existing constitutional order.
The charge sheet alleged that Hizmet acted as an armed group, and that it was involved in a series of murders that rocked Turkey in recent years, like the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
For many, Hizmet’s leader, Fethullah Gülen, is one of Turkey’s foremost Islamic scholars and political thinkers.
Members of his movement are said to play a prominent role in the police, the judiciary and 'private education. In 2002, it played a crucial role in helping Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) win power against the country’s secular establishment.
As such, it has exerted great cultural and economic power in the country, and has gained the backing of Turkish and non-Turkish economic interests, as well as many ordinary Muslims.
Over the years, the movement has set up and run scores of schools and colleges in dozens of countries through a network of facilities that help poor students gain access universities and vocational schools.
Some 500 of these schools are in operation in Turkey alone with many more in the Balkans, Asia and Africa.
The group provides scholarships, housing and moral guidance to students who come from the countryside. It also tries to reconcile science and technology with Islam and organised the Olympics of Turkish culture for Turkish-speaking people around the world.
The group owns two newspapers in Turkey, Turkish-language Zaman (Time) and Today's Zaman, in English, as well as other media.