Kalashnikov-carrying police raid Gülen-inspired private and prep schools based on ‘reasonable suspicion’

Police officers from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau officers enter Sur Fırat Prep-school in the southeastern province of Mardin. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
Police officers from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau officers enter Sur Fırat Prep-school in the southeastern province of Mardin. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

Date posted: September 15, 2015

Police carrying Kalashnikov rifles and inspectors from a number of government bodies raided 14 private and prep schools in Mardin province on Tuesday based on “reasonable suspicion” that the schools are involved in tax fraud, a move that comes as part of the government-orchestrated operation targeting the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement.

On Dec. 12, 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed into law a change to Article 116 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), reducing the threshold for the burden of proof that is required to obtain a search warrant from “strong and concrete evidence” to mere “reasonable suspicion.” It allows the police to not only search any individual, their home or vehicle more easily but has also, many commentators have alleged, paved the way for the government to seize the property of its critics on the grounds that they have committed a crime.

The raid was authorized by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and carried out at around 8 a.m. by police officers from the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM), who arrived at the schools in armored vehicles.

Cemalettin Bal, the principal of one of the FEM prep schools that was raided in Diyarbakır’s Sur district, told the Cihan news agency: “I wish [this many] police officers had come here when our prep school was set on fire and we suffered TL 600-700 billion in damage, on Oct. 6 and 7. I wish they had come here to protect this educational institution and our students then.”

Violence erupted on Oct. 6 and 7, 2014 following reports that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was close to capturing the town of Kobani, which was being defended by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian-based affiliate of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Protesters, angry at the government for not intervening to save the town despite a heavy military presence at the border, took to the streets nationwide. Violence peaked on Oct. 6-7, when protesters clashed with security forces and rival groups. More than 40 people died during the protests, mainly in southeastern Turkey, while hundreds of people — including 140 members of the security forces — were injured.

Şeyhmus Taşkın, a lawyer representing the schools, also told Cihan that the raid was based on claims of tax fraud, which is not supported by any concrete evidence. “There is not a single tax inspector among those who came to the schools. This [the raid and inspection] is unlawful. The claims are nonsensical and unrealistic. The [FEM] prep schools have been operating in Mardin province for 22 years. They educate around 1,500-2,000 students each year. They [police officers] have even failed to present documents supporting [their claims of] reasonable suspicion. We will take the necessary legal action,” Taşkın added.

Media outlets also revealed on Tuesday that a number of FEM prep schools and private Samanyolu Schools in Eskişehir, which were raided by police on July 31, were given fines based on laws that are only applicable to hotels, boarding houses, orphanages and nursing homes. Criticizing the fines, Selamet Şen, a lawyer representing the raided schools, stated that they are unlawful because the law it is based on is not applicable to educational institutions. The lawyer added that the schools have filed a complaint to demand the annulment of the fines.

An increasing number of schools sympathetic to the Gülen movement have been targeted by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) following a major investigation into graft that implicated President Erdoğan and other top AK Party figures that was made public on Dec. 17, 2013. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan accused the Gülen movement of instigating the operation in order to overthrow his government.

In May 2014, Erdoğan publicly advised AK Party supporters not to send their children to schools affiliated with the movement, vowing, “We will not even give water [to the movement’s members].” He has also said he would carry out a “witch hunt” against anyone with links to the movement. Erdoğan has also ordered officials in AK Party-run municipalities to seize land and buildings belonging to the Gülen movement by any means necessary. The movement strongly rejects the allegations and no indictment has been brought against it.

Source: Today's Zaman , September 15, 2015

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