Fetullah Gulen is Turkey’s most wanted man, at least according to its President Tayyip Rejep Erdogan.
Exiled in the United States since 1999 Gulen is a 75 year old moderate Sunni Islamic cleric with enormous support for his Gulen Movement in Turkey.
But to Erdogan he is the powerful businessman behind the coup attempt in July which killed 272 people – and that makes him a terrorist.
“We are determined to totally cut off all the business links of this organisation, which has blood on its hands,” he said recently.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of harnessing his network of schools, charities and businesses to infiltrate state institutions and build a so-called parallel structure that aimed to take over Turkey.
Gulen denies it, saying he’s repeatedly condemned the coup attempt and knows nothing about it. Instead there is a well documented lack of judicial independence in Turkey, he says, and the warrant for his arrest issued on August 3 is evidence that Erdogan is shunning democracy and embracing authoritarianism.
It wasn’t long ago that Erdogan and Gulen were close allies, but relations deteriorated after a corruption scandal in 2013 involving the president and his ministers. Erodgan accused Gulen of using his supporters in the judiciary to start an investigation into what Erdogan said were trumped up allegations.
Then shortly after Erdogan moved on Gulen, shutting down the media outlets of his movement. Gulen said that the action was a God-send as it revealed Erdogan’s true un-democratic colours.
“When these incidents against our friends have started, I praised God. Clearly, our friends are on the right track,” he said, referring to the journalists at his media outlets.
Just a few days ago Edorgan called Gulen a “charlatan” and stated that it “is time to fight against these people and bring them to account.” Erdogan is trying to do that by putting pressure on the United States to extradite Gulen. But unless he can back up his claims with hard evidence it’s very unlikely to happen.
In the meantime 180,000 people, mostly from Turkey’s civil service, judiciary, police and military, remain in detention after Erdogan’s government launched a massive crackdown on Gulen’s movement following the coup attempt.
And human rights group Amnesty International said recently that it has gathered credible evidence that they are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape.