A Turkish prosecutor listed the statement of a US-based Turkish Muslim scholar who lambasted the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for terrorist attacks in the heart of France in 2015 as criminal evidence against the scholar.
According to court papers obtained by Nordic Monitor, the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court accepted prosecutor Serdar Coşkun’s indictment that described the statement of Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as evidence against him in what was seen as a political witch-hunt trial to punish opponents of Turkey’s authoritarian Islamist regime.
In a strongly worded statement, Gülen condemned the terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 131 people, calling on everyone to join in rejecting terrorism “without ifs and without buts.” “Once again, I strongly condemn all kinds of terrorist acts that are perpetrated by anyone and for whatever stated reason,” Gülen said, describing the attacks as an “inhuman massacre.”
Stressing that he was in deep grief over the reported news of the heinous attack on innocent civilians, Gülen said, “These terrorist acts have dealt the greatest blow to peace and tranquility and must be considered by everyone as unacceptable crimes that should be condemned without ‘buts,’ without ‘ifs’ and without hiding behind any excuse.”
Extending his condolences to the families of the victims of the ISIL terrorism, Gülen also offered his condolences to François Hollande, the then-French president, and the French people. He wished the injured a speedy recovery.
“Terrorism is the foremost threat to human life, which is the most sacred and most universal value,” the Islamic scholar emphasized, adding that no religion, no idea and no viewpoint can be so corrupt as to approve such acts.
“A true Muslim can never be a terrorist and a terrorist can never be a true Muslim,” he said, reiterating the famous remarks he made immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, by the al-Qaeda terrorist group.
This statement was used in a case launched against the Islamic scholar in the Turkish capital, and the indictment, under file No. 2016/24769, incorporated the statement as if it were criminal evidence against Gülen. The court, overseen by presiding judge Selfet Giray, and member judges Salih Ay and Erhan Karakaya, did not bother questioning the inclusion of the statement and in fact repeated the same argument in a decision rendered on June 8, 2018. The reasoned decision was issued in January 2019.
The indictment accused 75 people of terrorism based dubious evidence because of their affiliation with the Gülen movement. Only four people – former lawmaker and journalist İlhan İşbilen, journalist and TV network General Manager Hidayet Karaca, Gülen’s cousin Kazim Avcı and media owner Alaeddin Kaya — were convicted and sentenced to aggravated life. The rest of the defendants live outside Turkey and did not stand trial.
This was not the first time Gülen has been an outspoken critic of radical Islamist groups. In 2014, Gülen also placed ads in leading US and European newspapers, including in France, to condemn the atrocities of ISIL against the backdrop of the murders of Alan Henning, James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Herve Gourdel by ISIL.
In the ads, which appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and Le Monde, Gülen said ISIL’s actions were a “disgrace to the faith they proclaim and crimes against humanity.”
Stating that religion provides a foundation upon which to establish peace, human rights, freedoms and the rule of law, Gülen emphasized that “any interpretations to the contrary, including the abuse of religion to fuel conflicts, are simply wrong and deceitful.”
Referring to other terrorist organizations that claim the name of Islam, Gülen said ISIL was not the first group to “use religious rhetoric to mask its cruelty” and mentioned al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, which have in common “a totalitarian mentality that denies human beings their dignity.”
Gülen, who is known for inspiring the grassroots Hizmet movement, also known as the Gülen movement, with his peaceful teachings, reiterated the incompatibility of Islam and violence. “Any form of violence against innocent civilians or persecution of minorities contradicts the principles of the Quran and the tradition of our Prophet (peace be upon him),” his message stated.
“Suicide bombers will go to hell forever and they will be called to account for the innocent people they killed,” he noted.
The scholar, a vocal critic of corruption in the government, became the target of a witch-hunt by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in the aftermath of a major corruption investigation that implicated senior ministers as well as the family members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.
Right after the corruption investigation went public with a wave of detentions on December 17, 2013, Erdoğan accused police officers, judges and prosecutors of a “coup attempt” and claimed that they were linked to the Gülen movement, which he branded a “parallel state.” Gülen strongly denied his involvement in the investigation, and the government has so far failed to present any evidence to back up its claims. Erdoğan also accused Gülen of masterminding a failed coup bid in 2016 but failed to support his claim with convincing evidence. Gülen denied any role in the coup and called for an international probe into it, which Erdoğan refused to consider.
Since the corruption scandals in 2013, the Islamist government has been unsuccessfully trying to brand Gülen, who is also opposed to political Islam’s manipulation of religion for political goals and personal enrichment, as a terrorist.
The Ankara 4th High Criminal Court separated the case of people who could not be arrested or present during the trials. The defendants in the sham case are listed as Abdülkadir Aksoy, Abdullah Aymaz, Abdulletif Tapkan, Ahmet Can, Ahmet Kara, Ahmet Kirmiç, Ahmet Kurucan, Ahmet Şahinalp, Alaeddin Kaya, Ali Bayram, Ali Çelik, Ali Çelik, Ali Ursavaş, Bahattin Karataş, Barbaros Kocakurt, Bekir Baz, Cemal Türk, Cemal Uşak, Cemil Koca, Cevdet Türkyolu, Dilaver Azim, Faruk İlk, Halit Esendir, Hamdi Akın İpek, Hamdullah Bayram Öztürk, Harun Tokak, Hüseyin Kara, Hüseyin Saruhan, İbrahim Kocabıyık, İrfan Yılmaz, İsmail Büyükçelebi, İsmail Cingöz, İsmet Aksoy, Kudret Ünal, Mahmut Akdoğan, Mehmet Ali Büyükçelebi, Mehmet Ali Şengül, Mehmet Erdoğan Tüzün, Mehmet Hanefi Sözen, Muammer Türkyılmaz, Murat Karabulut, Mustafa Yeşil, Mustafa Muhammet Günay, Mustafa Özcan, Mustafa Talat Katırcıoğlu, Naci Tosun, Necdet Başaran, Necdet İçel, Nevzat Ayvacı, Osman Hilmi Özdil, Osman Karakuş, Önder Aytaç, Rahmi Bıyık, Recep Uzunallı, Reşit Haylamaz, Rıdvan Akovalı, Sadettin Başer, Sadık Kesmeci, Sait Aksoy, Selman Kuzu, Suat Yiğit, Suat Yıldırım, Süleyman Tiftik, Süleyman Uysal, Şerif Ali Tekalan, Talip Büyük, Tuncay Delibaşı and Ziya Demirel.
None of the defendants had any criminal record, and they were all the subjects of prosecution because of their affiliation with the Gülen movement. The court also started issuing extradition requests for these victims of the Erdoğan regime by abusing either Interpol mechanisms or bilateral judicial assistance agreements. So far, no country has agreed to turn over any of these people sought by the Erdoğan government, citing massive rights violations in Turkey, torture and inhuman treatment in Turkish prisons and no possibility of fair trial in a country where the rule of law has effectively been suspended.