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Turkey makes McCarthyism look like a picnic

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What is happening in Turkey right now makes the McCarthy era in the US during the 1950s look like a picnic, writes Shannon Ebrahim.

When communists were targeted under McCarthyism they were blacklisted, hundreds jailed if they refused to co-operate with the authorities, and many compelled to leave the country.

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In Turkey it is not Communists, but Gulenists. Anyone even remotely associated with the Gulen movement is being rounded up and jailed – not by the hundreds, but by the tens of thousands. To date, over 40 360 suspected Gulenists have been detained in Turkey over the past months.

Under McCarthyism there were no reports of torture against communists, although reports of torture of supposed Gulenists in detention are becoming more widespread according to international human rights organisations.

A UN group of experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have criticised the purges in the Turkish military, media, education and justice sectors. The UN group comprised of 19 special rapporteurs and three working groups have said the government is using “wide and indiscriminate administrative powers that affect core human rights”. The UN has raised concern that the measures are being used to target dissent and criticism of the government.

In South Africa, followers of the Gulen movement who run some of the best performing schools in the country have been targeted and threatened by supporters of Turkish President Recip Tayip Erdogan’s regime. Turkish journalists in South Africa belonging to the Gulen movement have been castigated as terrorists by the Turkish Ambassador on public radio, with no evidence ever being produced of their wrong doing.

It has all become a matter of guilt by association. This is what we remember McCarthyism for. Anyone who socialised or worked with communists in the 1950s was suspected of being communist and targeted by the state – this is the most well documented case of guilt by association in modern day history. Now Turkey has far surpassed McCarthyism as a case study. In the 1950s, supposed Communists were hauled before public hearings run by US Senator Joseph McCarthy and grilled as to their associations. In Turkey there is no public scrutiny of individual cases, tens of thousands are merely languishing in jails all over the country. According to a government order, 30 000 convicts have been released in order to make room for these political detainees.

A total of 2 740 judges and prosecutors have been arbitrarily detained since the attempted coup in Turkey in July this year, and many lawyers are too afraid to represent the judges for fear of guilt by association. According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of lawyers have been detained for alleged association with the Gulen movement, and many lawyers are being pressured by the state not to represent their clients.

Under the current Turkish judicial system there is no longer a presumption of innocence. The Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors has created a list of supposed Gulenists, and a secrecy order issued to have them detained under the State of Emergency. No evidence has ever been produced against individual detainees personally. Senator McCarthy had also produced secret lists of communists to be detained, but most were at least given the opportunity of appearing before public hearings.

The irony of the whole sordid ordeal is that just a few years ago, President Erdogan was firm bedfellows with Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish preacher, writer and political figure, whom he now finds it politically expedient to call a terrorist. It was the Gulen movement who had supported Erdogan’s rise to power in 2002, using their extensive media agencies, financial power, and network of supporters.

At the time, the Gulen movement had been convinced that Erdogan was a democrat who would safeguard rights and freedoms in Turkey, and move the country away from its tradition of military coups. In the years following Erdogan’s rise to power, he used to refer to the Gulenist owned Zaman newspaper - which had the widest circulation in the country - as the “guardians of democracy in Turkey”.

When Gulenists in the media and the judiciary started to expose the extensive network of corruption of Erdogan, his family, and some of his ministers in 2013, the Gulen movement became public enemy number one. And thanks to a failed coup this July by some members of the military, all Gulenists have now been labelled as terrorists, and the onslaught against the movement has become a free for all.

Prior to the deterioration in relations between Erdogan’s government and the Gulen movement in 2013, the Gulen movement schools, mosques and NGOs in South Africa were strongly supported by the Embassy of Turkey. The Turkish Ambassador used to attend Eid breakfasts at the Nizamiye Mosque in Midrand which is run by Gulenists, and encouraged other senior ANC officials to do so as well. Now, according to the Ambassador, all members of the Gulen movement are terrorists.

There is now virtually no independent media left in Turkey, with 160 media outlets having been shut down and 108 journalists detained. As of this week, arrest warrants have been issued for an additional 35 journalists. According to most journalist watchdog groups, Turkey is now the worst jailer of journalists in the world. If we don’t tell the truth about what is happening in Turkey, who will?

* Shannon Ebrahim is the foreign editor for Independent Media.

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