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Turkey's Anti-Gulen Clampdown Rages Out Of Control

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered at the Presidential Complex to protest the July 15th failed military coup attempt in Ankara, on August 10.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered at the Presidential Complex to protest the July 15th failed military coup attempt in Ankara, on August 10.

On August 17, the Turkish prime minister issued a "special decree" announcing the release of 38,000 prisoners, not including any sentenced for murder, sexual abuse, or rape. This includes financial crimes.

Turkey's overcrowded prisons and slow court processes have forced all governments to issue some sort of amnesty every year to make room for new prisoners. But the unprecedented scope of the clampdown on suspected supporters of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been accused of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt, seems to have played a major part in inducing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to move quickly and include as many inmates as possible in the amnesty.

Thousands of prisoners suspected of actively or verbally supporting Gulen are awaiting court in big detention halls across the country. They need places in a regular prison.

"Are we releasing thieves and criminals to make room for coup plotters?" is a question widely discussed in Turkish media these days.

There's no question -- the answer is yes.

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Today I took a look, as usual, at top news from Turkey. Let me give you a summary of the detentions, arrests, and suspensions of the last 24 hours related to the coup attempt. I will also include separate terrorist attacks related to the Kurdish insurgency:

-- 24 detained journalists of the newspaper Ozgur Gundem sent to prosecutor's office;

-- In a terrorist attack in a village close to the southeastern city of Bitlis, four security officers were killed;

-- No trace of detained teacher Demirtas;

-- Per "special decree," 187 businessmen to be detained;

-- Bomb attack on the police center in Van, eastern Turkey: three dead, 73 wounded;

-- Anti-Gulen operation against Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas's son-in-law;

-- National Radio and TV Committee bans reporting on the bomb attack on the police center in Elazig, eastern Turkey;

-- Colonel detained in Gulen-related case tries to defend himself;

-- Governor of Elazig in eastern Turkey says three policemen killed, 146 people wounded, 14 of them seriously;

-- A "special decree" on the dismissal of 2,360 people from police department and 112 people from armed forces personnel;

-- Detention of 86 judges and prosecutors planned.

All that in just one day.

To be sure, "special decrees" by the president or the prime minister play the role of laws in the current state of emergency.

I think the list is not complete. Let's for one moment forget about the terrible terror attacks mostly related to the Kurdish insurgency.

How can you follow the daily detentions and dismissals that have been continuing since July 15 without any break? You can't. Nobody but the security agencies can. Journalists try to keep up, though, with statistics.

According to some estimates, since the coup attempt 77,000 public servants have been suspended, 5,000 fired, 19,000 detained, and more than 11,000 people arrested.

The same sources estimate that the number of 77,000 suspensions will soon rise to 100,000.

The president has warned that the "viruses," as he calls Gulen supporters, "are everywhere." He has called on everyone to report them to prosecutors and security agencies "even if they are your friends."

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With the "special decree" issued on August 17, 2,360 police staff and 112 employees of the Turkish armed forces were fired.

Obviously, it is virtually impossible that 77,000, let alone 100,000, people were armed or active supporters of the abortive coup.

Anybody suspected of having even talked positively about Gulen in the past is being reported and eventually suspended or detained. Some have reported that occasionally even friends of Gulen supporters were detained. There are also claims that some people spy on others and report them as "Gulenists" to the security services just to take their jobs or businesses.

A clarification of these tens of thousands of allegations and cases in open and fair trials may take years -- if it comes to a transparent court process at all.

Meanwhile, the accused have lost their jobs and financial security. Together with their families, they will probably amount to around half a million people -– or more.