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HomeHeadlineHow does The UK's Home Office define the Gulen Movement?

How does The UK’s Home Office define the Gulen Movement?

Mehmet Ozdemir*

The United Kingdom’s Home Office recently shared a lengthy information note about the Gulen (Hizmet) Movement on its official website. More precisely, it made the information note, which had been updated on August 9, accessible to the public on October 23. Similar information notes have been published since 2017 when Hizmet members started applying for asylum in the country, and this is the fourth updated version.

This 57-page note is prepared by the Ministry and serves as a “guide” for officials evaluating political asylum applications. In other words, it creates a template for officials, who consider the claims made by the Hizmet members and the responses to those claims put forth by the Turkish government, as well as partisan and impartial reports and publications by experts. Officials use this template when making decisions on asylum applications. Similar information notes are prepared for other groups and foreign nationals.

The document, which has been published three times before, has not received this much attention. One of the reasons it has probably come to the forefront this time is that its perspective on the allegations against Hizmet aligns with the facts reflected in the “Yalçınkaya decision,” a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last month.

Another reason could be that it has “cleared up some of the internal confusion” with each update, starting from the first version of the information note. Particularly, in the first version, there was a strong emphasis on allegations against Hizmet, but the explanations offered in response were not given equal coverage. As updates were made, this situation gradually improved, and in the latest version, the “unfair” attitude appears to have been largely eliminated.

How credible are the allegations of the Erdoğan regime?

This document is also significant in terms of revealing to what extent the United Kingdom’s Home Office believes in the allegations made by the Erdoğan regime and the Turkish judiciary regarding the Hizmet Movement. One of the notable points in the information note is the definitions made about Hizmet and Fethullah Gülen.

Just like in any democratic country governed by the rule of law, the United Kingdom’s Home Office defines Gülen as an “Islamic scholar and preacher who emphasizes education, selflessness, and hard work, promoting a moderate Sunni Islamic form.” In parallel, the Hizmet Movement is described as a “group of religious, educational, and social organizations founded by Gülen and inspired by him, operating in Turkey and abroad.”

Words like “terror” or “coup” are only mentioned in the information note as allegations of the Turkish government. It is emphasized that all countries that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) besides Turkey do not recognize the Gülen Movement as a “terrorist organization.” This reveals how other countries respond to Turkey’s policies and allegations against the Movement in the international arena.

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Interestingly, the day after the United Kingdom’s Home Office released the document, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya shared a message on his social media account. The Minister proudly announced the detention of 611 members of the Hizmet Movement, whom he referred to as a “terrorist organization,” in operations covering 77 provinces; all accompanied by a “Bollywood-style” video, presumably aimed at adding an air of seriousness and authenticity. Moreover, none of the grounds he listed as reasons for the detentions were found to be illegal in a recent ECHR ruling.

References to 160 separate pieces of information or documents

So, how does the United Kingdom’s Home Office reach the facts and consequences that the Turkish minister did not see? Does it rely solely on the accounts of Hizmet members?

Certainly not.

The answer to this question can be found in the 160 separate footnotes in the document. Yes, the document references 160 different sources, including the arguments of the Turkish government, among others. However, it goes beyond that, carefully examining and evaluating reports in the international media, reports by human rights organizations, and findings of European countries, the EU, and the US institutions.

Returning to the details in the information note, it is reported that the Gülen Movement and the Turkish government had good relations until 2013. However, due to criticism from the Movement following the December 17-25 corruption investigations, the government accused them of attempting to establish a “parallel state.” Subsequently, the government started exerting pressure to remove “Gülenists” from state institutions.

According to the note, the pressure on Hizmet members continued during the July 15 coup attempt and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency, and it continues to this day. The document provides detailed statistics on the detentions, arrests, and convictions that have been carried out so far and points to the injustices suffered by Hizmet volunteers and credible allegations of torture.

“Systematic torture allegations in custody are credible”

Since it is possible to access the figures in the information note from various sources, there is no need to repeat them here, but the following details are worth noting:

“The police frequently detain new suspects on the grounds of suspected Gülen connections. The period of detention, especially in political cases, is long. There are credible allegations that those suspected of Gülen connections or not renouncing the Movement face systematic torture and ill-treatment while in detention. These individuals face discrimination, passport cancellations, arbitrary detentions, unfair trials, and job dismissals.”

“Raids, the mass replacement of judges and prosecutors have undermined the independence of Turkey’s judiciary. The selective application of laws violated the right to a fair trial. Soldiers and police, journalists, judges, lawyers, teachers, and those in leadership positions in Hizmet institutions are particularly targeted.”

“UN bodies have noted that Turkey has unlawfully abducted and forcibly returned more than 100 Movement members from various countries. Turkey has ensured the extradition of more than 100 individuals suspected of Gülen Movement links from various countries. However, the pressure on other states to target opposition figures has strained diplomatic relations. Hizmet members extradited to Turkey may face unfair trials leading to detention, ill-treatment, and lengthy prison sentences.”

Gülen Movement under extensive pressure from the Turkish state

The prosecution of suspects often relies on controversial evidence and the absence of fair trial standards. Defense lawyers’ access to case files is restricted. The mass replacement of judges and prosecutors has undermined the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

During the two-year state of emergency, over 125,000 public officials were dismissed from their jobs, their passports were canceled, and re-employment in public service was prohibited, both for them and their family members. A review commission was established to reconsider the dismissals, but it was criticized for procedural deficiencies. Reemployment or finding new employment for dismissed public officials became challenging.

Since 2016, more than 120,000 people have been convicted on charges related to the Movement. However, human rights groups have documented numerous instances of injustice, arbitrary convictions, and disproportionately severe sentences. Access to medical care in prisons is inadequate, and overcrowded and poor conditions prevail.

In conclusion, the Gülen Movement is under extensive pressure from the Turkish state. Suspected participants face mass dismissals, arbitrary detentions, unfair trials, torture, harassment, and restrictions. The persecution has extended beyond the borders of Turkey through international pressure campaigns. The risks faced are deeply linked to the involvement, profession, and government perception of the Movement.

*Mehmet Ozdemir is a journalist and editor at TR724.com.

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