The Turkish government is seeking over 3,600 life sentences, nearly 3,000 additional years in prison, and a 2.2 million-day additional sentence for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric exiled in the United States who Ankara blames for the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gulen, the head of an Islamic movement known as “hizmet,” runs a chain of charter schools internationally from his home in Pennsylvania. The charter schools have come under FBI investigation for financial improprieties, but the United States has not accused Gulen of radical Islamic or cultish activities, as Turkey has. Gulen himself has denied any involvement with the coup attempt.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet notes that the Turkish government identifies “hizmet” as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), and has charged Gulen with running the terrorist organization, organizing the coup, and being responsible for the death of 249 people and injury of thousands more.
Prosecutors have calculated that Gulen should serve 3,623 aggravated life sentences, another 2,923 years in prison on other charges, and a “judicial fine equivalent to 2.2 million days.” He faces at least 22 criminal cases linked to the failed coup. Gulen’s organization also received blame for the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov by a Turkish police officer in December 2016. The United States has requested evidence linking Gulen to the coup, but reports following the failed coup indicated no such evidence surfaced. Turkey has reportedly submitted unrelated evidence in an attempt to sway the U.S. government in extraditing him.
Turkey does not provide legally for capital punishment, though Erdogan’s government made clear following the failed coup that it would support reinstating the death penalty for coup plotters. “Today, is there no capital punishment in America? In Russia? In China? In countries around the world? Only in European Union countries is there no capital punishment,” Erdogan said in July of last year. This week, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP), which often votes in Parliament alongside the AKP, called for the reinstatement of the death penalty once again and vowed to vote for it.
Erdogan and his government contend that Gulen’s supporters have infiltrated all areas of government, particularly the military and the judiciary, and are seeking to overthrow the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). Last month, Turkey arrested over one thousand “secret imams” allegedly working to indoctrinate Turks to follow Gulen nationwide. Shortly before the announcement of charges against Gulen this week, the government dismissed 107 judges and prosecutors believed to have ties to the FETO.
Nearly five thousand judges and prosecutors have lost their jobs over Gulen ties since the failed coup attempt. Another 40,000 people have been arrested nationwide, and 120,000 suspended from their jobs, since July 2016.
The Turkish government has repeatedly demanded Gulen’s extradition. In February, Turkish officials made the request to CIA chief Mike Pompeo, on official visit to Ankara that month. This week, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Washington and requested that Sessions “submit in court the evidence Turkey has handed to U.S. authorities in support of the extradition, and also to place Gulen under provisional arrest,” according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Anadolu added that “a high-ranking Turkish delegation,” including the nation’s intelligence and military chiefs, also met with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to discuss, among other things, “counter-terrorism.”