AK Party criticized as teachers arrested in Manisa witch-hunt

Police officers raided the private Sehzade Mehmet kindergarten, primary and secondary schools on Nov. 24, which is Teachers’ Day in Turkey, and detained a total of 10 people — including teachers A.D., E.K., F.S.B., H.O., İ.D., M.Y. and S.S. — as part of the government’s campaign against the faith-based Gulen movement, a civil society group inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen.

The detainees spent Tuesday night at the Manisa Police Department before being taken to a hospital the next morning. The 10 detainees were sent to Manisa State Hospital for medical examinations early on Wednesday while detainee U.G.D, who is also a teacher, was interrogated at her house but not taken for a medical examination because she had medical report indicating she was pregnant. According to media reports, U.G.D. will also be detained soon.

Late on Wednesday, a lawyer representing one of the teachers announced that Judge Oktay Tabur of the Manisa 5th Criminal Court of First Instance, had arrested all the detainees. “They have all been arrested. We will object to the court’s decision in a week’s time,” the lawyer told the press. He added, “They were arrested on charges of ‘giving financial support to a terrorist organization’ and ‘being a member of a terrorist organization’.”

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Manisa Bar Association head Ali Arslan said on Wednesday that neither the association nor the public supports the government-initiated operation, adding that it is intended to “defame teachers.” “The way the operation is being carried out, with teachers being detained in front of their students, is intended to punish the suspects at the beginning of the operation. Even though the law allows police to carry out detentions everywhere, we [in the Manisa Bar Association] think that they should have behaved ethically in this matter,” Arslan said, further saying that the police had deliberately decided to carry out the detentions on Teachers’ Day.

When asked about the arrests in Manisa during a press conference in Parliament on Thursday, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ankara deputy Bulent Kusoglu said that there has been a regression in individual rights and freedoms in Turkey recently. “Even talking about violations of human rights and freedoms constitutes a problem for media outlets. In Turkey, it is very tough to suffer these violations and to write reports about them. We [in the CHP] are deeply upset because of this,” Kusoglu said.

Tur Yıldız Bicer, another CHP deputy, spoke to Today’s Zaman on the day of the detentions and said that the treatment the teachers are facing is inhumane. “The police raid on schools offends both the teachers and their students. That schools are being raided on [Teachers’ Day] is a result of the [Justice and Development Party] AK Party’s reckless and rude attitude,” Bicer said.

Also speaking to Today’s Zaman, CHP deputy Aytun Cıray described the arrests as “more than illegal; a grave degree of governmental tyranny.”

Education Personnel Union (Egitim-Sen) branch head Metin Demirel told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday that his group condemns the detention of the teachers in front of their students. “If you are asked to detain these people, you must know their addresses. You should have detained them in their houses.”

Manisa provincial education director Recep Dernekbas released a statement over the incident on Wednesday. “Regardless of whether they are teachers or other bureaucrats, those who make mistakes must be given what they deserve within the frame of the relevant laws and circulars,” the statement read.

Erkan Akcay, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), criticized the operation during a session in Parliament on Wednesday, saying: “Raiding schools and detaining teachers in front of their students are acts of oppression and intimidation against both the students and their parents. I would like to make it clear that these acts are unlawful and I condemn them.”

The police raid was similar to a government-orchestrated operation carried out by the Manisa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Nov. 10, where dozens of people including lawyers, doctors and teachers were detained in Manisa on charges of providing financial support to the “parallel structure” in a move that critics said amounted to a political witch hunt.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan coined the term “parallel structure” to refer to the Gulen movement. Although all the detainees were initially released, seven were detained again and arrested on Nov. 17.

There have been many other similar police operations that have targeted specific individuals, businesses and civil society organizations affiliated with the Gulen movement, also known as 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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