The government of Turkey issued a blanket decree Sunday firing 18,632 state employees for unspecified “links with terror groups” and has increased the number of arrests for “insulting the president” ahead of the inauguration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Monday.
Erdoğan won re-election on June 24 in an election international observers decried as significantly hindered by the opposition’s lack of access to media and Erdoğan’s total domination of electoral coverage, as well as widespread allegations of fraud at the ballot. It is the first election following a referendum that transitions Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, granting Erdoğan the powers of the prime minister’s office, which no longer exists, and greatly expanding his ability to rule by decree without adding any significant checks to his new power.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Turkish government specified that those removed from their posts were suspected of ties to groups that “act against national security.” It did not provide any information on which groups it meant, however.
Yeni Safak, a pro-Erdoğan Turkish newspaper, specified that about 6,000 of those fired were in the military, about half were in the police forces, and the remainder within the nation’s judiciary or state academia. The newspaper adds that the decree not only expelled these individuals from their positions but also shut down three more newspapers and a television network, without specifying which. Erdoğan has presided over the shutdown or takeover of over one hundred media outlets since the 2016 failed coup, and has facilitated the takeover of independent media the government could not shut down by his allies.
The organizations the government is most likely targeting with these dismissals is Hizmet, a movement led by the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization. Erdoğan’s government has liberally accused anyone who publicly criticizes his Islamist rule of ties to either organization. In the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American Christian taken hostage to be used as a bargaining chip for Gulen’s extradition – according to Erdoğan himself – the government accused Brunson of being involved with both the Islamic Hizmet organization and the atheist, Marxist PKK, without presenting evidence.
Ankara official accuses Gulen of organizing the failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016; Gulen has repeatedly denied any involvement and the Erdoğan government has largely failed to provide any public evidence for its accusations.
Shortly after the coup failed, Erdoğan imposed a national state of emergency and fired, detained, or arrested over 100,000 people from state jobs. Erdoğan has promised to lift the state of emergency following his inauguration Monday, which will grant him numerous powers that make the state of emergency’s obsolete. Yeni Safak notes that the state of emergency grants Erdoğan the power for these mass firings and that Ankara appears to believe the stability of the country following the removal of that state of emergency necessitates the purge.
In addition to those fired, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported on Monday that the government has arrested five people for holding anti-Erdoğan signs at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University graduation ceremony for “insulting the president,” a crime in Turkey. Among the “insulting” posters displayed was one showing cartoons of Erdoğan as various animals, including a frog, a snake, and a monkey. The reportedly 12-year-old cartoon first appeared in the satirical magazine Penguen, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom, and a judge dismissed the case against it, finding it insufficiently insulting at the time. In the context of other posters in support of Turkey’s secular opposition, however, and given Erdoğan’s expanding power, the students arrested may face a harder time against their case.
The Stockholm Center for Freedom also reported on Sunday that an academic from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland was arrested for posting “criminal” anti-Erdoğan opinions on Facebook and Twitter. Hanifi Barış reportedly faces up to four years in prison for criticizing the government.
Erdoğan took his oath of office on Monday, ensuring his rule through 2023. Present at the ceremony were various world leaders, including dictator Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who has become a staple of events hosted by Erdoğan after making a surprise appearance at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in December.