On the 3rd October 2018, an armed man was seen trying to enter Fethullah Gulen’s place of residence – the Chestnut Retreat Center in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, Alliance for Shared Values, an umbrella organisation promoting community service, education and interfaith dialogue, which is based in the USA and whose member organisations were founded by Hizmet movement participants, reported this. In response, a security guard on duty “reacted to the situation with a warning shot in the air” causing the armed intruder to flee the scene. There were no injuries and the threat was instantly dissolved.
Staff at the Retreat Center are co-operating fully with the state police to support their investigation. Police are still searching for the unidentified person.
What does this mean?
- The incident comes at a worrying time when, speaking at a press conference, Turkish Presidential Spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, confirmed that Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) would attempt to extra-judicially render Hizmet participants from other countries, including from the US to Turkey, with increasing severity. He said that “Our relevant units and institutions will continue their operations in the countries that the FETO operates in, whether it be the U.S. or some other country. Rest assured that they will feel Turkey breathing down their necks. I cannot share any details, but anything can happen anytime anywhere. Mr. President has given very clear instructions on this issue. Our relevant units are working very professionally. Operations similar to the one conducted in Kosovo can be carried out in other countries. All should know that Turkey will not allow the FETO to breathe a sigh of relief.
- A pro-government Turkish journalist, Cem Küçük, has said that the MIT has the authorisation to conduct operations abroad and many overseas Turks are willing to carry out assassinations on behalf of MIT.
- After the July 15 coup attempt, the Turkish government set up a telephone hotline so that people can report Hizmet participants. Text messages and social media posts were used to incite people to inform on Hizmet participants and others who are deemed to be critical of the Erdogan regime. People can also report expatriate Turkish citizens all over the world using the General Directorate of Security’s official mobile phone application.
- Awareness of the execution of the orchestrated kidnappings of Hizmet participants in both Europe and elsewhere in the world since the 15 July Turkey coup attempt has grown. “Over 80 Turkish citizens have been kidnapped in covert operations across 18 countries,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said, on April 5, 2018. So far, more than a hundred Hizmet-linked Turkish nationals have been taken back to Turkey by intelligence service operations in coordination with countries such as Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Gabon and Myanmar.
- The latest “snatching” being of six asylum seeking teachers from Moldova on 6th September 2018. Amnesty International immediately responded with a campaign demanding the immediate release of the six teachers and protection for another. Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International said that “The Moldovan authorities didn’t just violate these individuals’ rights once by deporting them – they put them on a fast-track to further human rights violations, such as an unfair trial”.
- In November 2017, ex-Trump aide Michael Flynn was investigated in the US for an alleged plan to kidnap Fethullah Gülen in return for $15m.
- Enes Kanter is a professional NBA basketball player for the New York Knicks. He publicly speaks out against Turkey’s authoritarian Erdogan regime. His passport was cancelled by Turkey while he was travelling from Indonesia to Romania on 20th May 2017. Enes Kanter is unable to travel outside the USA due to the fear of reprisals by the Turkish government. Turkey issued an international arrest warrant for him, charging him with “involvement in a terrorist group”, and detained his father on 2nd June 2017, upon failing to arrest him, seeking 15 years in prison. Kanter says he is constantly receiving death threats.
- Andrew Brunson, an American Evangelical pastor in Turkey, was detained on the grounds of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” on 7th October 2016. Turkey’s President Erdogan suggested a swap deal: that the US should extradite Gulen if they wanted Brunson to be released. As a response, the Trump administration put pressure on Turkey, threatening sanctions if it failed to release the pastor. He was released only recently, on 12th October 2018, after 2 years in prison.
- Cevheri Güven, a Turkish journalist living in exile, said that people who were abducted by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) were taken to a specially equipped building in Ankara where they were subjected to heavy torture.
- The Arrested Lawyers Initiative published a report in February 2018, which concludes that “extradition to Turkey is a one-way ticket to torture and unfair trial”.
- In July 2018, Ömer Faruk Aydıner, the Deputy Undersecretary of the Defence Ministry, said that over 445.000 people, a figure that amounts to the population of some countries, have been investigated in relation to Gulen links since the coup attempt.
Dr Ismail Mesut Sezgin, Director of the Centre for Hizmet Studies, said:
We do not have enough information on the armed perpetrator’s aims and motives for attacking the retreat centre, where Mr Gulen resides. However, there is a consistent pattern of extrajudicial rendition by Turkey’s intelligence MIT in targeting Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet participants, which is in line with the official statements by Turkey’s Erdogan regime, acknowledging further activities in the US and other western countries. Turkey’s rightful emphasis on human rights as a response to the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi case is ironic, as Turkey’s international operations against political dissidents have become the norm. One thing is clear, that policies to appease the Turkish government and President Erdogan only strengthen Turkey’s willingness to disregard the rule of law and to act more recklessly in the future. It is therefore imperative that Turkey’s allies and friends, global institutions and human rights organisations, recognise the significance of the global purge of Hizmet participants and to hold Turkey accountable for the numerous violations of human rights that it commits against innocent people, both in Turkey and abroad.
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