A Turkish court will try Fethullah Gülen, an influential cleric, in absentia on terrorism charges and seek life imprisonment.
Gülen was once an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but the relationship fell apart when the latter accused the cleric of “trying to topple him” in December 2013. Gülen has lived in the U.S. since 1999, when he fled the then-government on “charges of anti-secular activities.”
Reuters read the indictment, which states the cleric “is the number one suspect among 69 people accused of running a ‘terrorist group’ behind 2013 corruption investigations.” Authorities targeted Erdoğan’s inner circle and led to their dismissal.
All of the suspects face life imprisonment, but Gülen faces a number of additional charges, since authorities believe him to be the mastermind of the alleged terrorist group. The indictment says he formed and led the group and obtained “secret information for the aim of political espionage.”
“We have gone into their lairs, and we will go into them again,” Erdoğan declared last year. “Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account.”
Authorities have targeted anyone connected to Gülen, which led to failing businesses and people losing their jobs. One of the largest banks in Turkey lost its prominence. Critics of Erdoğan, not necessarily connected to Gülen, accused him of using the controversy “to reshuffle the judiciary system in his favor and crack down on dissent.” Erdoğan has a history of shutting down anyone, including kids, who dares insult or question his motives.
The news comes two weeks before Turkey’s snap election on November 1. Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in June, which allowed the president to announce new elections to win back its majority. In September, the government raided media groups Koza İpek Holding and Kaynak Holding, both of which own numerous publications that are often critical of the regime. Opposition paper Bugün ran a story that claimed Turkey sent weapons to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria with pictures that allegedly show the weapon exchange.
Gülen has caused some controversy in the United States, establishing numerous charter schools in Texas under the name Harmony Schools. Some came under investigation after it was revealed the majority of teachers and administrators are from Turkey. A New York Times investigation showed money tied to only Turkey companies and corruption to gain more aid. The FBI raided 19 schools in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio in 2014.
Wikileaks revealed in a document that the government is worried the schools are being used to indoctrinate the students and use money to fund the movement in Turkey. FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds believes Gülen is a threat to U.S. interests.