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Turkey's purge becoming witch-hunt, activists warn

media Kamuran Karaca, Ankara organiser for the Eğitim Sen education trade union RFI/Tony Cross

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned on Wednesday that the country’s post-coup crackdown is not over. Thousands of military personnel, journalists and academics have been detained and many more workers suspended from their jobs in what is supposed to be a purge of followers of US-based imam Fehtullah Gülen, who is accused of being behind the 15 July putsch attempt. But unions and rights groups fear other opponents of the powers-that-be are being caught up in the repression.

“I thought it was a joke because it seemed like a joke and funny for a left-wing, democratic person like me to be caught up in this plot," says a teacher who has been suspended in Ankara. "I laughed. We made jokes about it. But I have just begun to sense how serious it is today. I mean I have just felt the severity of the situation.”

People on the government’s hit list tend not to want their names to be made public and she is no exception.

She is a union activist and an Alevi, a member of a religious minority who tend to be anti-establishment, which she says already attracts social pressure, for example for not observing the Muslim Ramadan fast.

Her union, Eğitim Sen is resolutely secular and opposes religious proselytism in schools, so its members were surprised to find themselves under the spotlight.

"They are quite angry about that, because Eğitim Sen members are teachers who have been fighting against religious influence in education by religious groups, against bigotry up to this very day," says union official Kamuran Karaca.

And the evidence against them is pretty tenuous, he says. “They were suspended on very strange grounds, such as taking loans from the bank called Bank Asya, which is allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement, applying for a loan from that bank, or members of their family buying books or office supplies from shops associated with the movement.”

None of these activities are illegal, Karaca points out, and many members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have indulged in them, given that the party and the Gülenists were close allies for many years.

Public sector employees under pressure

Some 50,000 public sector employees have been suspended and, again, their union believes that many have nothing to do with the Gülen movement.

Lazmi Özgen of the Kesk wonders how a hit list of tens of thousands be put together in two days.

“We know that, with the help of secret informants, the government had been profiling tens of thousands of public officers under different categories such as Gülenist, Kurdish separatist, Alevi, atheist, secular and so on. Such profiling activities are both unlawful, unconstitutional and in breach of international agreements. Ordinary public employees such as teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers have nothing to do with plotting or carrying out the coup,” says Özgen.

So, according to Kesk, members who have made themselves unpopular with their employers or informants are bound to have been caught up in the crackdown.

"Ordinary public employees such as teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers have nothing to do with plotting or carrying out the coup," says Özgen. "The government’s initial reaction has been to suspend public officials on the excuse that the coup provides for a policy of 'If you're not with us, you're against us'."

The union already had 32 members in jail for insulting the minister on social media and terrorism offences, which it claims means taking part in union demonstrations and other activities.

Ankara city council, for one, seems to be continuing the search for workers to be dispensed with.

Employees at its water and drainage department were greeted with a questionnaire to fill in when they arrived at work on Monday. It asked for a list of their social media accounts, information on their spouses, what organisations they belong to, what educational institutions they have attended and their opinions on the coup.

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