Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been divisive at best since his election in 2014, with waning support from western countries as he has repeatedly pushed the envelope of his powers, resulting in many people viewing him as a dictator. His latest in a slew of anti-democratic extensions of power is the unlawful detention of 149 people, with a majority of those detained having worked in either the military or in law enforcement to some capacity, according to Al Jazeera. This is no coincidence as Erdoğan’s grounding for the lawfulness of these arrests is that these individuals have direct links to Fetullah Gülen, a cleric who was blamed by Erdoğan for orchestrating the failed coup d’état in 2016 and thus pose a national security threat. Gülen, who has been living in exile since 1999, has declined any involvement in the coup but does have a history with Erdoğan, including an agenda to subvert the latter’s government. However, at this point the dialogue between Erdoğan and Gülen has turned into a he-said-she-said narrative.
The nature of this narrative of accusation without evidence is fine and is, to an extent, typical for political dialogue, especially amongst enemies. Where Erdoğan goes wrong is unlawfully arresting individuals with potential links to a man who could have easily not been behind the coup. This level of supposing leads one to believe that Erdoğan is more concerned with purging Turkey of dissidence through a system of Napoleonic law whereby you are guilty until proven innocent than he is the lawful grounding of the arrests the government is making. It is also not outside the realm of Erdoğan’s character to forcibly remove those who disagree with him as seen with critical newspapers, which is dangerous when combined with a judicial system and his unchecked power.
These 149 new detainees are far from the first and likely will not be the last, as Reuters reports that more than 80,000 individuals are awaiting trial for charges relating to the coup and another 150,000 government employees are suspended from their job. These 149 people are not concentrated in Ankara or any one region. Reuters also reports that suspected Gülen followers are being detained as far southeast as the Gaziantep province and as far west as the Bursa province, with the rest of the detainees focused in between.
This move by Erdoğan to unlawfully detain Turkish citizens has garnered criticism from western states, primarily the European Union. Turkey, as a state with aspirations to join the European Union perhaps not this year or next but five, ten years down the road, must realize that what Erdoğan is asking to be done to potential security threats would not comply with the human rights that the European Union has established to protect its citizens. Continuing on the point of Turkish aspirations to join the European Union, these actions taken against their own citizens combined with how the Union has seen how migrants are treated in Turkey does not paint a promising picture for Turkey’s accession to the Union.
Given the questionable nature of the claims against the suspected Turkish security threats, there is only one legitimate, democratic path for Erdoğan to pursue. He must prove that Gülen was behind the coup of 2016 and prove these individuals were connected with that event for their arrests to be grounded in some judicial truth. Anything short of this would mean Erdoğan has moved yet again towards authoritarian rule.