Speaking during the general assembly of the European Parliament (EP) on Thursday, Harms said working in institutions such as schools or universities with links to the Gülen movement is not a crime and that, similarly, being critical of the government and being a critical journalist are not crimes.
Erdoğan has exploited the presence of Gülen-inspired people in the state bureaucracy as a tool to silence all opposition and grasp yet more power. If the Gülen movement did not exist, the president would have needed to create another “enemy of the state” to fight against in order to reach his ultimate aim.
How did Turkey plunge into this mess of freedom suffocation, and what has really gone wrong with the once-admired President Erdogan ? While I keep pondering on these questions, I believe it is not too late for the Turkish government to retrace its steps and embrace full democratic norms.
Turkey’s western allies are alarmed, but against a complex geopolitical backdrop, they have chosen discretion rather than valour. After the EU parliament last week voted to freeze EU accession talks with Turkey, Mr Erdoğan lashed out by threatening to open the country’s borders to migrants heading to Europe. This is tantamount to blackmail.
“In the big picture, Erdogan knows that the EU needs Turkey and will come back begging for a new agreement on the migrants. That’s why he will play a game of brinksmanship,” said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish program at The Washington Institute.
The progress report on Turkey that was issued on Wednesday by the European Commission expressed concern over the Turkish government’s purge against Gülen movement members, saying “any allegation of wrongdoing needs to be examined with due process, transparent procedures, and the right of every individual to a fair trial or equitable administrative process should be safeguarded.”
The human rights body of the Council of Europe, the Commission against Racism and Intolerance, issued a report on Wednesday about the increasing use of hate speech, even by senior state officials. While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the Gülen sympathizers “viruses,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım labeled them microbes. The movement is the main target of a massive purge and witch-hunt in Turkey.
None of this has stopped the government from undertaking a huge, self-destructive purge, with around 10,000 people arrested, 100,000 people dismissed, and the seizure of assets of more than $4 billion, numbers that worry not just human rights activists but foreign investors as well. The government’s fury is understandable but it should distinguish between those who took part in the coup and those who simply belonged to the Gulen movement.
The Turkish media – or what is left of it – has already found Fethullah Gülen guilty of the coup attempt on July 15. When challenged about the evidence, the most common reply is “Come to Turkey and see” or “Everyone in Turkey thinks this way.” This almost unanimous opinion is not a coincidence, and it does imply a monopoly over the Turkish media rather than any objective fact.
Once the purges started, however, the game changed. The EU should oppose the purges as a symptom of an authoritarian turn and attempt of centralization of power by the ruling elite. By definition, a coup d’état is an illegal overthrow of the governing machine in place so to trigger a regime change. The response to a golpe by the ruling government should then be used as an opportunity to consolidate the power of the legitimately elected administration and give evidence of national unity.
Turkey must avoid targeting individuals simply because they worked for firms affiliated with the Gulen Movement, otherwise it may be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland urged.
“We are stressing to the Turks that they have to present clear evidence, be able to separate those who were clearly behind the coup and those who have been in some way or another connected to or working for this so-called Gülen network,” Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, told Reuters.