An Ankara court has rejected four separate compensation cases filed by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over claims that Erdoğan violated the scholar’s personal rights.
Fethullah Gülen’s lawyers, who launched the cases on different dates, were seeking a total of TL 100,000 in non-pecuniary damages for what they called attacks by Erdoğan in 19 public speeches on the personal rights of the scholar.
The trial that took place at the Ankara 10th Court of First Instance on Tuesday was attended by Fethullah Gülen’s lawyer Mustafa Onur Aslay and Erdoğan’s lawyer Muammer Cemaloğlu, who asked that the claim be denied. Ramazan Kaya, the judge hearing the trial, ruled for the rejection of Fethullah Gülen’s demand for compensation.
Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, which he inspired, have been targeted by Erdoğan ever since a corruption probe went public on Dec. 17, 2013, implicating senior members of the government. Erdoğan, who frequently refers to the movement as the “parallel state” or “parallel structure,” accuses it of being behind the corruption operation and of being a criminal network seeking to overthrow the ruling party government. The movement strongly denies the claims.
Erdoğan has on many occasions publicly targeted Fethullah Gülen and his followers, using offensive and derogatory expressions to refer to them, in addition to making accusations without providing any evidence to substantiate them.
Erdoğan has referred to the movement, which he had formerly praised, as a group of assassins, an illegal organization and a virus, in addition to calling it a parallel state. In a speech in February 2014, Erdoğan called members of the Gülen movement blood-sucking vampires.
He delivered what many said was the gravest insult to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen when he addressed religious clerics in a speech at a ceremony organized by the Religious Affairs Directorate last January and was apparently referring to Gülen when he said: “This civilization has rejected fake prophets and shallow scholars and thrown them onto the garbage pile of history. This civilization will do the same again. It will reject those who view scholarly inquiry as magic. This civilization has never acknowledged those who use scholarly inquiry to gain power and influential networks.”
Erdoğan, who on a previous occasion insulted Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli for not having a son, relied on the same approach in a speech in Balıkesir last year, where he said Gülen was attacking Turkey because he had no children and therefore has nothing to worry about.
In a speech in Burdur, Erdoğan said: “You, Fethullah Gülen, if you believe that you did nothing wrong, then return to your home. Do not get involved in illegal activities that could endanger our national security.” In the same speech, he argued that the so-called parallel structure had emerged in order to disrupt Turkey’s national unity.
Gülen has been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999.
The rejection of Fethullah Gülen’s demand for compensation from Erdoğan did not come as a surprise, given that Turkey’s judiciary is under the tight grip of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Erdoğan’s former party.
The AK Party, by passing numerous pieces of new legislation after the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe, allowed for the detentions and arrests of police officers who carried out the graft probe operations in addition to its critics.
Erdoğan and government officials have taken legal action against hundreds of people, including journalists, for critical remarks about the government or the president. Individuals have been prosecuted and sentenced for Twitter posts that criticize the government or Erdoğan. Critics are typically accused of insulting the president or government officials or face terrorism charges.
Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş recently received a sentence of 21 months in jail for a Twitter post.
An Ankara court on June 6 decided to convict Keneş and hand down a suspended prison sentence of 21 months over a tweet that allegedly insulted Erdoğan. Keneş did not mention the president’s name in his tweet. The sentence has attracted worldwide condemnation, and many highlighted concerns about press freedom in Turkey.
In the latest such development, on Tuesday, journalist Mehmet Baransu, who is currently in jail for publishing documents related to a coup attempt dated 2003 , was given a 10-month prison sentence for insulting Erdoğan on Twitter.
In his defense, Baransu said to the judge at the İstanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance: “Why would Erdoğan think I referred to him when I used the word ‘thieves’ without mentioning a name? I request that he be asked whether he is a thief.”
The judge rejected Baransu’s bid, saying he should make “achievable requests.”
According to a report in the Sözcü daily in March, the number of complaints filed by Erdoğan’s lawyers on charges of insulting him had reached 236. The individuals named in these complaints include high school students, journalists and cartoonists.
Erdoğan has also filed 52 criminal complaints against members of the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) youth branches in the past year for insults.