Erdogan's hunt for Gülenists, at home and abroad, includes abductions, torture and disappearances
Turkey’s crackdown has targeted ordinary citizens, suspected of links with Gülen’s Islamic movement. The country’s secret services have seized people in broad daylight, at home and abroad. Violence is used to extort confessions and denunciations. A victim speaks out.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Since the night of the failed coup in July 2016, which left President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power in the balance, Turkish authorities have engaged in a witch hunt that has touched hundreds of thousands of soldiers, judges, teachers and intellectuals, as well as ordinary people.
Plainclothes security agents have pushed defenseless citizens into mini-vans in broad daylight, or gone after people who left Turkey long ago seeking a new life. All of them linked by the same thing, namely a real or presumed affiliation with Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania (United States).
Erdogan, Turkey’s modern sultan, and the preacher were once allies. Their disagreements, conflicting visions, and different sensibilities about the role of Islam began long before the coup. The night of the attempted military uprising, a night still shrouded in mystery, was thus the last stage in a gradual falling out between two men with different views about politics and religion in Turkey.
A group of international journalists from nine different media outlets, including French daily Le Monde, looked into Turkey’s purges and released a scathing report full of dates, events, witnesses and personal stories that highlight the tragedy that is still unfolding in the eastern Mediterranean, at the gates of Europe, in a land that joins East and West.
Turkey’s secret services are the iron fist of the crackdown. Since the attempted coup d'état, they set up a parallel "system" where they arbitrarily detain and torture Gülen’s followers in secret prisons and torture cells.
Unprepared to follow the rules of evidence and habeas corpus, the authorities have opted for repression, abductions, intimidation and diplomatic pressure.
After the coup, which left 250 people dead and 1,500 wounded, almost 220,000 people have been detained, with more than 50,000 convicted.
Universities, schools, and associations affiliated, or simply suspected of links with Erdogan’s former ally and his movement, were shut down. Businesses worth some US$ 15 billion were seized by the authorities.
The series of abductions by Turkey resembles the policy of “extraordinary renditions” carried out by the United States under George W Bush after 9/11. A network parallel to official institutions is responsible for the abductions, torture and abuse, all designed to extract confessions.
All this can be found in Correctiv, a Germany-based non-profit newsroom. In its blacksitesturkey report, it presents the cases of some 20 people caught in the web of Turkey’s intelligence services. Two of them agreed to speak out. Their identity and country of refuge have been kept secret.
One of them is Tolga, who was abducted in an Ankara street last year and was held for 92 days (which he counted by placing small paper balls in the cracks of the walls of his cell every time he got the first of his two paltry meals).
In this three-month period, he lost 21 kilos and endured beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and sexual abuse. He remembers with surgical precision the protocols used "in the archipelago" of torture, perpetrated by "professionals" linked "to the State".
"I realised after a few weeks that they were looking for anonymous witnesses for the trial. They have so much evidence to collect and so many accused that they have nothing” in terms of proof, he said.
In Turkey’s justice system, charges can be based on anonymous witnesses. “In their head, they had a fictional terrorist organisation and needed people to fill its roles.”
During his captivity, his family tried to find him to no avail. Relatives, activists and lawyers campaigned online asking for help from the international community, also to no avail.
Despite claims by Turkey that it has a zero-tolerance policy on torture, the opposite is true according to Tolga, who is now a refugee in a hotel in a Western nation. His cell remains imprinted in his memory: one by two metres with padded walls to prevent prisoners from killing themselves by smashing their heads.
Suddenly one day he was released on a street in the capital; in the following months, he hid from the world, and took advantage of the first opportunity to flee the country.
The international team of journalists heard other stories like Tolga’s and Ali’s, people who fled the country to escape Erdogan's purges. On the day of his release Tolga was given a water bottle, which he held onto because he realised it had the fingerprints of one of his jailers.
Before he left Turkey, he stayed in a safe house hoping that “one day the bottle might be useful in a trial” against Turkey’s leaders and the torturers responsible for crimes against humanity.