In a new sign of the intimidation of regime opponents, an Islamist judge in Turkey ruled to seize the assets of exiled critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, new documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed. The decision confirms how plunder has become part of the persecution pursued against these people, with the government unlawfully seizing the wealth of critics who live abroad.
In August 2016 Antalya 1st Criminal Court of Peace judge İbrahim Altınkaynak, a graduate of an imam-hatip (religious school) in the Kumluca district of southern Antalya province, ordered the seizure of all assets of US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Erdoğan over pervasive corruption and the government’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria and other countries.
Moreover, the court listed 102 Erdoğan critics who have been forced to live in exile or who remain at large in Turkey to escape the regime’s persecution. The judge ordered the transfer of their assets including real estate, chattel goods, bank accounts, intellectual property and other financial assets to the Treasury.
The Turkish government used a state of emergency to intervene and restrict all fundamental human rights after a coup attempt in July 2016. In order to impoverish exiled dissidents including writers, journalists, businessmen, doctors, academics and human rights defenders, the court confiscated all their assets in a blatant abuse of the state of emergency. In Altınkaynak’s decision, Articles 247 and 248 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMUK) were not applied in line with Article 3 (1) (b) of emergency decree no 668. In fact, Articles 247 and 248 of the code describe the seizure of property as a temporary measure.
Altınkaynak violated Articles 35 and 38 of the Turkish Constitution by ordering confiscation under an emergency decree that was not in force at the time. According to Article 35 of the constitution, Turkish nationals have “the right to own and inherit property, and these rights may be limited by law only in view of the public interest.” Furthermore, Article 38 underlines “penalties or security measures in lieu of penalties shall be prescribed only by law.” Article 38 also makes clear that “no one shall be punished for any act that does not constitute a criminal offense under the law in force at the time committed; no one shall be given a heavier penalty for an offense other than the penalty applicable at the time when the offense was committed.”
Moreover, the emergency degree itself and the decision of the Turkish court were in violation of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to property. According to Article 1 of the protocol, “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”
It is obvious that emergency decree 668 aimed at plundering the assets of Erdoğan critics does not comply with the necessities of democratic societies or the general principles of international law. The decisions were often taken by Islamist and ultranationalist judges and prosecutors who were transformed into tools of state-sanctioned plunder after the dismissal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors since 2016.
The documents revealed that people affiliated with the Gülen movement were not allowed to enjoy due process and fair trial protections and were treated as pariahs and outside the law in Turkey. The assets and wealth of individuals, corporations and organizations that were seen as affiliated with the movement were branded as war spoils open to plunder. Similar to Nazi Germany, their property was divided up among Erdoğan’s Islamists and their collaborators. The assets of Gülen-affiliated entities such as schools, universities, media outlets, companies and apartment buildings were confiscated or stolen by new owners.
Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) has taken over 885 private companies including major conglomerates such as Boydak Holding, the Koza Ipek Group, Kaynak Holding and Naksan Holding, valued at close to TL 60 billion ($10.5 billion), since 2015. No figures were available verifying how much personal wealth and how many assets were seized through the Erdoğan government’s use of the partisan judiciary.
Instead of the Turkish Constitution and the principles of international law, a political Islamist approach with jihadist undertones has become the main source of motivation for Erdoğan’s judges and prosecutors. In an introductory video of the Kumluca Imam-Hatip school, Altınkaynak underlined the fact that the principles of imam-hatip schools have guided his professional life and judicial decisions. His social media posts are also embellished with Islamist and nationalist rhetoric.
Radical Turkish clerics who endorse Erdoğan help fuel a hostility in Turkey against the president’s critics and opponents, justifying torture and ill treatment of innocent people who are merely exercising their right to dissent. For example, at a rally held in front of Erdoğan’s house in Istanbul, a jihadist cleric named Abdülmetin Balkanlıoğlu publicly said that the assets seized from the Gülen movement were spoils of war for Muslims to enjoy. Balkanlıoğlu, who died in 2018, had links to jihadist groups in Syria and advocated the view that Muslims in Syria were battling the US, Russia and China and urged them to martyr themselves as part of the jihad.
Another radical pro-Erdoğan cleric, Nureddin Yıldız, a man who has openly endorsed jihadist wars from Syria to China and is seen as very close to Erdoğan’s family, advocated the view that members of the Gülen movement must be executed — hanged and their arms and legs cut off.
The defendants in the sham case who were victims of asset seizure were listed by the Antalya 1st Criminal Court of Peace as Abdülkadir Koluçolak, Ahmet Çakmak, Alper İvecan, Burak Güller, Emrah Alagan, Feyyat İliman, Fikret Karyağdi, Hamza Göktaş, Hüseyin Girişken, İslam Ülker, Mehmet Uzun, Murat Doğan, Osman Direk, Ömer Akgün, Ridvan Demir, Sefa Öyke, Suphi Kiliç, Ufuk Atilgan, Yusuf Karabulut, Ahmet Yildirim, Nurettin Adigüzel, Erkan Kacir, Mustafa Akbulut, Emrah Abika, Murat Balaban, Muhammet Sertdemir, Zübeyir Selman Kahraman, Ender Vural, Abdülhalim Kökyay, Murat Değer, Celil Durmaz, Ahmet Sözgen, Ramazan Keskin, Ismail Şahin, Salih Karan, Yavuz Keskin, Turhan Negiz, Hüseyin Kaya, Hüseyin Bal, Mehmet Menderes Keskin, Cezmi Atan, Şeref Ünal, Tacittin Karataş, Mehmet Özdemir, Ramazan Altuntaş, Ibrahim Dolgun, Ramazan Örtülü, Cevdettin Serik, Halil Ersoy, Mustafa Ayanoğlu, Mustafa Karadağ, Eyyup Sabri Hamamcioğlu, Orhan Özkelle,Tuba Tüzemen, Abdi Durna, Elif Akkaya, Ayşenur Sezgin, Murat Sakartepe, Fetullah Gülen, Hasan Tarik Şen, Hasan Yilmaz, Saim Yuva, Arif Orhan, Hilmi Ünal, Mehmet Yaşa, Mustafa Yeşil, Ahmet Çiçek, Abdülkadir Yükselen, Abdullah Alniak, Ebu Ubeyde Seven, Mehmet Haş, Süleyman Çoban, Tacittin Akçakuş, Mehmet Ali Çoban, Ekrem Ünal Sevindik, Hasan Şahin, Hüseyin Tulpar, Kazim Sönmez, Mehmet Kafas, Mehmet Ihsan Öner, Nurullah Özbaş, Seyfullah Gürdal, Zekeriya Öner, Ismet Akil, Ahmet Güler, Ender Ileriye, Ergün Gürzal, Izzet Bayar, Ridvan Candemir, Serdar Gür, Salih Bayram Akinci, Ibrahim Şahin, Mehmet Ali Söyler, Mehmet Çelik, Halit Ünver, Kadir Sari, Sezai Ergün Ünal, Adil Baş, Osman Saritaş, Soner Taker, Oğuz Küçükzengin, Hüseyin Özçelik and Yahya Karadeniz.
None of the defendants had any criminal record, and they were all the subjects of prosecution because of their affiliation with the Gülen movement.
Below is a seven-page Antalya 1st Criminal Court of Peace document that shows how critics’ assets were seized. Identity numbers have been redacted by Nordic Monitor.