Suspended police chief visits Manisa courthouse prior to teachers’ arrest

A total of 10 people, including seven teachers, were arrested in Manisa on Wednesday, as part of a government-backed campaign targeting the faith-based Gulen movement, also known as Hizmet, a grassroots initiative inspired by the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen.

The arrests took place after police officers raided the private Sehzade Mehmet kindergarten, primary and secondary schools on Nov. 24 — Teachers’ Day in Turkey — and detained the teachers in front of their students. Another three were detained at their homes.

Before the detainees were referred to court for arrest, Ceren was reportedly seen leaving the Manisa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office at the courthouse.

The detainees, charged with ‘giving financial support to a terrorist organization’ and ‘being a member of a terrorist organization’, were asked unusual questions during their interrogation at the Manisa Police Department.

“Do you subscribe to the Zaman daily, Sızıntı magazine or any other publication? Do you go to Bank Asya? What was your purpose in investing money to that bank? Was your purpose preventing it from being handed over to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund [TMSF]? Why did you choose Bank Asya when there are many other banks in Manisa?” were among the questions asked during interrogation.

Holding a press conference on Wednesday, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairmen Levent Gok criticized the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for the operation carried out on teachers on Teachers’ Day. “This is saddening treatment [of teachers]. I’m not saying that guilty people shouldn’t be tried in court, but detaining teachers on that day is an irony that will offend all teachers,” he said.

Emphasizing that the operation doesn’t represent the state of law, Gok added: “Of course, everyone who committed a crime must stand trial. However, [pro-government] prosecutors are punishing people without any formality. This practice is not suitable for a state of law.”

CHP Manisa deputy Tur Yıldız Bicer visited the raided schools on Friday and condemned the anti-democratic operation. “They are committing spiritual violence here. [What has been done to] teachers [has also been done to] healthcare professionals, doctors, bankers and even the natural environment. There’s isn’t a sect of society that has not been offended. Schools, hospitals and the judiciary all belong to the AK Party, while they should be independent of government. [People in] these institutions should treat every citizen of the society as equals. They should embrace everybody,” Bicer said.

Ozgur Ozel, a CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman, spoke to Today’s Zaman on Wednesday and said alleging that colleting charity money is providing financial support to a terrorist organization is a legally problematic issue. “We all know that those teachers are financially supporting poor students so as to provide them a good education,” Ozel said.

On Nov. 9, police officers on handcuffed 26 people, including lawyers, educators and headscarved women, and paraded them through the street until they were escorted to police cars. The operation was carried out over charges of providing financial support to alleged members of the “parallel structure,” a term invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to refer to the Gulen movement. Images of the suspects in handcuffs, in particular those of headscarf-wearing women, sparked public outcry. Following the reactions, Manisa Governor Erdogan Bektas suspended Ceren on an order from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

There have been many other police operations targeting specific individuals, businesses and civil society organizations affiliated with the Hizmet movement. These operations are widely believed to be an act of retribution by the Erdogan administration for the major graft investigations that were made public on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, implicating Erdogan and other high-ranking AK Party figures. Then-Prime Minister Erdogan accused the Gulen movement of using those investigations in an attempt to overthrow his government. Gulen is a critic of the government, accusing it of being corrupt, engaging in favoritism and abusing religion for political and personal gain.

In May 2014 Erdogan publicly vowed “not to give even water” to the movement’s members. He has also said that he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the Gulen movement. Erdogan has also ordered officials from AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings belonging to those inspired by the movement by any means necessary. The Gulen movement strongly denies the allegations of masterminding the graft investigations as part of an effort to overturn the government.


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