The Turkish government continued its crackdown on people it suspects of conspiring to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a failed coup attempt last July. On Wednesday the country’s interior minister announced the arrests of over 1,000 members of the country’s police force and accused them of being “secret imams” loyal to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The early-morning raids came just 10 days after Erdoğan narrowly won a controversial referendum that critics in Turkey and abroad warn could transform the Turkish government into an outright autocracy.
Besides the 1,009 arrests made on Wednesday, Turkish authorities issued another 2,215 arrest warrants for suspected supporters of Gülen who are hiding among what they believe to be a secret network inside the police force. Suspects are located in all 81 Turkish provinces, with 390 of them in Istanbul alone.
Prior to Wednesday’s arrests, figures from the Turkish Interior Ministry showed that 113,260 people in total had been arrested or detained since the failed coup nine months ago, which left 248 people dead. Of that number, almost 47,000 have been arrested on specific charges. Those arrested include members of the police, military,and judiciary, as well as civil servants and journalists. Erdoğan’s crackdown also extends to the media, with 179 outlets being shuttered in 2016 alone.
Dubbed the Gulenist Terrorist Organisation, or FETO, by the Turkish government, supporters of Gülen have borne the blame for July’s failed coup. And Erdoğan is now pledging to “cleanse” them from all sections of society.
“We are trying to cleanse members of FETO inside the armed forces, inside the judiciary, and inside the police,” Erdoğan said just before the raids on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “We are going to keep up the fight in terms of democracy, fundamental rights, and liberties, but at the same time we are going to keep up the fight against PKK, FETO, and other terrorist organizations such as Daesh [the Islamic State group]. We will continue down this path in a very committed fashion.”
Fethullah Gulen, who now resides in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, was once a staunch ally of Erdoğan, but that relationship soured in 2013 when Erdoğan accused Gülen of being behind corruption investigations. He’s currently on Turkey’s most-wanted-terrorist list and the government is demanding his extradition from the U.S.
Gülen denies any part in the coup, instead suggesting the entire incident was carried out by Erdoğan himself in order to cement his own position. “What other explanation is there for arrest warrants for thousands of judges, prosecutors, and police officers being ready within hours of a coup attempt?” Gülen said at the time. Despite consistent requests by the Turkish government to extradite Gülen, the U.S. government has asked for evidence to back up the arrest warrant — something the Turkish government has so far failed to provide.
Erdoğan’s referendum victory is still being contested by opposition forces, who allege vote-rigging, while independent observers have slammed the election’s lack of transparency. One member of an EU delegation sent to observe the vote called it “unfair and unfree.”
On Wednesday, a leading member of the EU Parliament, responsible for dealings with Ankara, said the constitutional changes provided by the referendum are cause for the formal suspension of talks on Turkey’s membership of the group.
“As Turkey with such a constitution cannot become a member of the EU, it also doesn’t make sense to continue the discussion on integration with the current government,” Kati Piri, a Dutch lawmaker, said. “The EU should officially suspend the accession talks if the constitutional changes are implemented unchanged.”