Turkey’s justice minister has confirmed that police will be investigating individuals who expressed a belief or shared content that furthers the idea that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged a coup attempt against himself in order to orchestrate a purge of opposition in the military.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the television network Kanal 7 on Sunday that Turkish social media users should be wary of friends who discuss the theory that the coup attempt on July 15 was a hoax, as they “likely had a role” in orchestrating the coup themselves.
“Just look at the people who are saying on social media that this was a theater. Public prosecutors are already investigating them. Most of them are losers who think it is honorable to die at Fethullah Gülen’s command,” Bozdağ told the network.
Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish imam who runs a chain of charter schools in the United States and lives in self-imposed exile in the Pocono mountains. Gülen has repeatedly been accused of running an Islamist cult and has been investigated by the FBI for misappropriation of public funds.
Erdogan has blamed Gülen for organizing the coup attempt and demanded Washington extradite him to Turkey. Gülen denies any involvement in the affair.
While Erdogan was quick to blame Gülen for the upheaval, this did little to prevent the theory that Erdogan had staged the coup himself from spreading both within Turkey and internationally. At the core of this theory are the extensive benefits to Erdogan stemming from the aftermath of the coup: an emergency situation that provides Erdogan with the power to rule by decree and carte blanche to arrest — or at the very least fire — soldiers, teachers, prosecutors, and police who oppose his rule, accusing them of having a hand in the coup.
As Al Monitor columnist Cengiz Candar notes, the perception of this particular coup attempt as unprecedented in its sloppiness in a nation with a modern history of coups has also contributed to the idea that it was doomed from the start, on Erdogan’s orders. The coup conspiracies have risen as far as to receive consideration in outlets like The Independent, much to the chagrin of Erdogan-controlled media.
Turkish media, meanwhile, is suffering yet another crackdown for reporting news unfavorable to Erdogan. On Monday, the Turkish courts issued 42 warrants against journalists, allegedly due to unspecified “possible criminal conduct.” Erdogan has shut down entire news agencies alleging they had ties to Gülen, replacing their journalists with state-approved mouthpieces.
Erdogan did little in the aftermath to dissuade the idea of a coup conspiracy, however, going as far as to call the coup “a great favor from Allah.”
The confirmation of investigations ongoing into those who have publicly speculated about a coup conspiracy follow years of Erdogan using the Turkish police force to prosecute people who disparage him of Facebook. Famous athletes and beauty queens alike have gone to trial for insulting Erdogan on Facebook or Twitter, and one man faced two years in prison for sharing a humorous photo comparing Erdogan to the Lord of the Rings character Gollum.
Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has also imposed morality checks on social media, inspecting social media profiles for wayward “individualism” that challenges “traditional family values.”