Turkey’s opposition parties across the political spectrum criticized reports that a criminal investigation was launched against Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, saying that the allegations are a political tactic by embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to distract public interest away from a big graft scandal that has implicated himself, his family members and his senior government officials.
“The government is desperate to shift the public debate away from corruption. Erdoğan is resorting to all kind of tactics to move the public discussion away from graft investigations that involve himself, his close family members and his ministers,” Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Oktay Öztürk said.
He also questioned the timing of the move targeting Gülen, asking why the government has waited until now if there are serious allegations incriminating the Islamic scholar. “Who will believe Erdoğan after Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 of last year, when two corruption investigations were made public?” he asked Today’s Zaman over the phone.
Speaking to the private NTV network on Wednesday, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik claimed that an investigation is being made into Gülen based on “serious allegations extending as far as spying activities”.
Sources at the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office denied the existence of such an investigation, however, saying that only a routine examination on claims against Gülen, based on a complaint filed by several people, was being made. Prosecutors are required by law to examine any petition filed with the office and they can only launch criminal investigation when there is strong evidence.
Gülen’s lawyers say that there was no available information regarding criminal investigation into the Islamic scholar as of Wednesday in the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP), a judicial network where any investigation must be filed by prosecutors before moving on to execute a probe.
On Tuesday after the ruling party parliamentary group meeting, when asked by a reporter if a formal process will be started to seek Gülen’s extradition from the United States, Erdoğan replied, “Yes, [one] will begin.”
Erdoğan, in an interview on Monday night with Charlie Rose on American public television station PBS, said the US should extradite Gülen. When Rose asked Erdoğan if he thinks the US will comply with Turkey’s request for extradition, Erdoğan said he hopes to see that happen. The prime minister then quickly added that the US should at least deport him.
Erdoğan acknowledged that the Islamic scholar has permanent legal residency in the US by virtue of a “green card,” which also gives Gülen legal rights in the US.
Gülen’s lawyer Nurullah Albayrak, however, said that Erdoğan’s remarks should be seen as an attempt to influence any future trial process that may involve his client by putting pressure on judges and prosecutors. “Even if there is a court decision to extradite Gülen in the future, this should be communicated through the [Turkish] Justice Ministry to the US authorities,” he said, adding that the US courts will review such a request should one ever be made officially.
The US can extradite green card holders to their countries of origin in cases where the act that formed the basis of the request is considered a crime under the laws of both the US and the requesting country, if the offense is not a political one, there are no concerns about a fair trial and the political authority agrees to do so. Given these conditions, however, it’s almost certain that any request from the Turkish government for Gülen to be extradited will be denied.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Erdoğan Toprak also criticized the government, saying, “Turkey is a country governed by a rule of law.”
“Impromptu remarks made by Erdoğan [on Gülen] saying ‘we’ll do this and that’ confuse politics with the law,” he told Today’s Zaman, stressing that the law is being abused for political purposes.
“The government should respect the rule of law in this country,” the CHP deputy underlined.
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır deputy Altan Tan also lashed out at the government, saying that the prime minister should respond to allegations involving himself first and foremost before proceeding with an extradition request on Gülen.
“The prime minister’s remarks on Gülen’s [possible] extradition is a political maneuver,” Tan underlined, saying that there are no legal justification for asking the US government to extradite Gülen.
Gülen is in self-imposed exile in the US, though there is no legal hurdle preventing him from returning to Turkey. Shortly after he went to the US in 2000, he was charged with establishing an illegal organization in Turkey, but he was eventually acquitted in 2008.
After the corruption and bribery investigation went public on Dec. 17 of last year, some 50 people were detained, including the sons of three then-Cabinet ministers and several high-profile businesspeople. Allegations arose that several other government officials were also involved in illegal activity.
Erdoğan responded to these allegations by reassigning prosecutors assigned to the graft investigation and thousands of police officers and others, claiming that they were under the control of Gülen and trying to create a “state within a state” and topple his government.
The MHP’s Öztürk said the Turkish prime minister’s character is remiss, noting that he had praised Mr. Gülen for years and invited him to return from his self-imposed exile. “Now he wants to put him in jail,” Öztürk said, adding that Erdoğan has nothing to do with the supremacy of rule of law in Turkey.
“If they [Erdoğan and his close associates] respected the law, neither him nor [any] minister would be in the position they occupy today,” Öztürk said.