A US resident and vocal critic of the Turkish government has been indicted in Turkey on criminal charges because of an interview with major international media outlets during which he accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of aiding and abetting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Fethullah Gülen, a chief opponent of the Erdoğan regime who has been living in the US since 1999, accused Erdoğan of funding and arming jihadist terror groups including the Nusra front and ISIL in Syria in order to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime, during an interview in July 2016 with reporters from major media outlets including The New York Times, Financial Times, Sky News, CNN, The Guardian and Reuters.
In the interview Gülen also claimed that Erdoğan’s ambition was to position himself as the leader of all Muslims in the world with the ouster of Assad. His next targets would be Jordan, Egypt and the Maghreb countries in North Africa, Gülen added. Erdoğan’s opponent also referred to Syria-bound arms intercepts transported by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to support jihadist groups in the neighboring country.
These comments were considered a criminal offense by Turkish prosecutor Aytekin Canikli, then with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, who filed an indictment against Gülen on February 2, 2017. Canikli is known for filing a series of frivolous indictments against Erdoğan critics, most specifically against the participants of the Gülen movement, which has been active in education, charity and interfaith dialogue activities around the world. Canikli was rewarded for his services by the government and promoted to deputy chief public prosecutor and later named to the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) in July 2018.
The indictment was based on a complaint by İsa Akalın, an Islamist academic with Akdeniz University and a member of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Akalın, a 49-year-old theology lecturer, previously ran for parliament on the AKP ticket in his birthplace of Diyarbakir province. He has been involved in controversial Islamist charity groups such as the Ensar and Hakyol foundations, which are backed by the Erdoğan government.
Turkish prosecutor Canikli turned this radical academic’s complaint into an indictment and claimed that Gülen put Turkey at risk of war with his allegations and also by attempting to portray the Erdoğan government as a sponsor of terrorism. The transcript of the video recording of Gülen’s interview, uploaded to YouTube, was reviewed by a police cyber security unit, and a transcription of the interview was included in the indictment as criminal evidence.
Erdoğan and Gülen, once allies, had been gradually drifting apart over a number of differences over the years, ranging from clashes with Israel in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident to the Turkish interventionist policy that started with the Arab revolutions in 2011. The growing divergence burst into public view when Gülen criticized the police crackdown on anti-government protesters during the Gezi Park events in May-June 2013 and took a strong stand when Erdoğan tried to hush up major corruption investigations in December 2013 that incriminated senior government officials, Erdoğan’s family members and business and political associates.
Erdoğan orchestrated criminal investigations into Gülen in 2014 and branded the movement and its leaders as terrorists. Many of the shortcomings in the government under Erdoğan’s watch were falsely blamed on the movement as part of Erdoğan’s strategy to scapegoat it for his own troubles. That included a failed coup in 2016 in which Gülen denied having any role, with the government failing to present evidence to support the allegations against him.
The full indictment in Turkish is posted below: