Social media ‘theorists’ targeted in Turkey

Turkish prosecutors are investigating people who have alleged on social media that a July 15 coup attempt was a hoax carried out by the government, the country’s justice minister said, reflecting what some critics say are increasing restrictions on expression in the wake of the failed rebellion by some military forces.

Turkey also said it plans to hire more than 20,000 teachers to replace those who have been fired in a purge of suspected coup plotters in schools and other institutions.

Education minister Ismet Yilmaz said the new teachers will replace state educators who have been dismissed as well as teachers in private schools with alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric who has denied Turkish accusations that he directed the coup attempt that killed about 290 people.

In other crackdown measures, Turkey has disbanded the presidential guard after already detaining nearly 300 unit members suspected of plotting against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and authorities detained Muhammet Sait Gulen, a nephew of the cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in an interview with Turkey’s Kanal 7 television station that anyone who suggests the coup attempt was staged likely had a role in the failed insurrection.

There has been some internet speculation that Erdogan engineered the unrest in order to rally support and thereby increase his power, a conspiracy theory rejected by the government and most commentators on Turkey’s recent turbulence.

“Just look at the people who are saying on social media that this was theatre, public prosecutors are already investigating them. Most of them are losers who think it is an honour to die for Fethullah Gulen’s command,” Bozdag said.

Turkey has declared a three-month state of emergency to restore security following the coup attempt, granting Erdogan the power to impose decrees without parliamentary approval. More than 13,000 people, including nearly 9,000 soldiers, 2,100 judges and prosecutors and 1,485 police, have been detained, according to the president.

In addition, Erdogan said, the government has closed and seized the assets of 15 universities, 934 other schools, 109 student dormitories, 19 unions, 35 medical institutions as well as numerous other associations and foundations suspected of links to Gulen’s movement.

Turkey wants the US to extradite Gulen. Barack Obama has said there is a legal process for extradition and has encouraged Turkey to present evidence.

In another demonstration of unity after the coup, which was staged by a faction within the armed forces, the head of Turkey’s air force issued a rare statement stressing “absolute obedience” to the chief of the military general staff. Some members of the air force were involved in the coup.

The chief of the military general staff, Hulusi Akar, who was held hostage by the plotters on the night of July 15, condemned the plotters as “cowards in uniform” who had greatly harmed the nation and the army.

Critics of Erdogan fear he is using the abortive coup to wage an indiscriminate crackdown on dissent.


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