Turkish prosecutors have demanded two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in prison for US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for masterminding last month’s attempted coup.
But in a step back from threats to reintroduce the death penalty in the wake of the July 15 failed putsch, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said a fair trial would represent a harsher punishment for coup plotters than execution.
Ankara is sweeping ahead with a crackdown that has seen some 100,000 people either detained or lose their jobs, worrying Western allies, with simultaneous raids yesterday against companies in Istanbul suspected of helping to finance the Gulen movement.
Gulen, who lives in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania, has vehemently denied that he and his supporters were behind the coup attempt.
In a 2,527-page indictment approved by prosecutors in the western Usak region, Gulen is charged with “attempting to destroy the constitutional order by force” and “forming and running an armed terrorist group” among other accusations, the Anadolu news agency reported.
The so-called Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) – the name Ankara gives the group led by Gulen – had infiltrated state archives through its members in the state institutions and intelligence units, according to the indictment.
The group has used foundations, private schools, companies, student dormitories, media outlets and insurance companies to serve its purpose of taking control of all state institutions, it added.
It has also collected funds from businessmen in the guise of “donations” and transferred the money to the US through front companies, and by using banks in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Germany, Anadolu reported.
The symbolic punishment of two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in prison for Gulen is one of the heaviest ever demanded in Turkey since the death penalty was abolished in 2004 as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union.
Yesterday Yildirim called for a fair trial instead of the death penalty for suspected coup plotters, in comments seen as softer after Erdogan had suggested that the government could bring back capital punishment.
“A person dies only once when executed,” Yildirim said in parliament. “There are tougher ways to die than the death (penalty) for them. That is an impartial and fair trial.”
The prospect of the death penalty being restored had stunned the EU, which makes the abolition of capital punishment an unnegotiable condition for joining the bloc.
Erdogan said yesterday that it was only natural to discuss whether to introduce the death penalty after the botched coup, and blasted Europe for its criticism.
“If the people have such a demand, (parliament) will discuss it,” he said.
Turning to Europe, Erdogan said if what Turkey faced had taken place in the West, “they would both introduce capital punishment and declare a non-stop state of emergency”.
“Believe me, they do not have the patience, strength and faith that we have,” he said.
Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency after the coup and the sheer magnitude of the crackdown prompted worries among its EU partners.
Yesterday police raided dozens of companies in Istanbul in search of 120 suspects including chief executives, Anadolu said.
The suspects are accused of financing Gulen’s activities, but the identity of the firms was not immediately clear.
Erdogan has vowed to eradicate businesses, charities and schools linked to Gulen, calling them “terror organisations” and “nests of terror”.
Gulen, a reclusive cleric in who has lived in the US since 1999, has been repeatedly accused of running a “parallel state” since a corruption scandal embroiling then premier Erdogan and several of his ministers erupted in 2013.
Ankara wants Washington to extradite Gulen to face trial, indicating that any failure to deliver him will severely damage ties.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed the extradition process in a telephone call yesterday with US counterpart John Kerry, the foreign ministry said, and US Vice-President Joe Biden is due to visit Turkey to discuss the issue later this month.
Turkey has meanwhile sent a file to Greece asking for the extradition of eight soldiers who fled in a helicopter soon after the coup, Anadolu said.
The eight men – two commanders, four captains and two sergeants – were given a month’s extension for their asylum requests last month.
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