The scale of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged government opponents following last year’s attempted coup was confirmed by a top official, as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the failed putsch amid deepening concern over the rule of law.
Authorities have fired 103,824 state employees and suspended 33,483 more since the July 15 bid to seize power by a section of the military, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview. The purge of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt, is necessary to ensure national security, he said.
Justice Ministry data showed 50,546 suspected members of Gulen’s organization were in prison on July 3, and that arrest warrants had been issued for 8,000 others. The preacher denies involvement in the takeover attempt.
“There might be crypto members of Feto who walk on the snow without leaving tracks,” Kurtulmus said, using an abbreviation of Gulen’s first name that officials have adopted since the defeated military power grab to refer to his movement. “Related agencies are carefully conducting their work against this possibility.”
The unyielding assault on perceived threats to the government has raised twin alarms over the autonomy of judicial bodies and growing intolerance toward criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who narrowly won sweeping executive powers in a referendum this year. Among those detained have been journalists, academics and activists.
Just this week, Erdogan rebuffed criticism over the detention of a group of international rights activists, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey, as they held a workshop on an island off Istanbul. “They gathered as if they were holding a meeting to continue July 15,” the president said.
Amnesty criticized Turkey on Tuesday after the detentions were extended by seven days. “It is truly absurd that they are under investigation for membership of an armed terrorist organization,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in an email. “For them to be entering a second week in police cells is a shocking indictment of the ruthless treatment of those who attempt to stand up for human rights in Turkey.” European leaders have also been alarmed by Turkey’s drift toward authoritarian leadership.
Gulen and Erdogan were once close allies as they collaborated to limit the power of a common enemy — the secularist army that had managed to keep Islamists from power since modern Turkey was founded close to a century ago. As Erdogan has strengthened his grip over Turkey, he has sought to limit the cleric’s influence.
Over the past year, authorities have shut 110 media outlets for alleged links to Gulen’s network, according to data from the Directorate of the Press, part of the prime minister’s office, while 20 others were temporarily shuttered but allowed to resume reporting after they were cleared. The press accreditation of 715 journalists has been revoked.
Around 34,000 state employees suspended or made redundant in the crackdown have been reinstated after evidence of their innocence emerged, Kurtulmus said. The sackings and suspensions were carried out using decrees, which the state of emergency imposed right after the coup allows cabinet ministers to issue without parliamentary oversight, he said.
Judicial bodies have processed the cases of 168,206 people linked to the takeover attempt, the Justice Ministry said. About 48,000 have been released from custody but remain under court monitoring, it added.