ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in prison for US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for masterminding last month’s failed coup.
But in a step back from threats to reintroduce the death penalty after the coup that sparked tensions with the EU, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said a fair trial would represent a harsher punishment for coup plotters than execution.
Meanwhile Ankara swept ahead with a crackdown that has seen some 100,000 people either detained or lose their jobs, with simultaneous raids against companies in Istanbul suspected of helping to finance the Gulen movement.
Turkish authorities have pointed the finger of blame at Gulen and his supporters in the army for the July 15 military action seeking to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power.
In a 2,527-page indictment approved by prosecutors in the Usak region of western Turkey, Gulen is charged with “attempting to destroy the constitutional order by force” and “forming and running an armed terrorist group” among other accusations, the Anadolu news agency reported.
The so-called Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) — the name Ankara gives the group led by Gulen — had infiltrated state archives through its members in the state institutions and intelligence units, according to the indictment.
The group has used foundations, private schools, companies, student dormitories, media outlets and insurance companies to serve its purpose of taking control of all state institutions, it added.
It has also collected funds from businessmen in the name of “donations” and transferred the money to the United States by means of front companies, and by using banks in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Germany, Anadolu reported.
The case dates back to September 2015, even before the failed coup, and had been launched by the Usak prosecutor’s office into the financial assets of FETO.
‘No patience, no faith’
The symbolic punishment of two life sentences and an additional 1,900 years in prison for Gulen is one of the heaviest ever demanded in Turkey since the death penalty was abolished in 2004.
Yildirim on Tuesday called for a fair trial instead of the death penalty for suspected coup plotters, in comments seen as softer after Erdogan had suggested that the government could bring back capital punishment.
“A person dies only once when executed,” Yildirim said in parliament.
“There are tougher ways to die than the death (penalty) for them. That is an impartial and fair trial.”
The prospect of the death penalty being restored stunned the EU, which makes the abolition of capital punishment an unnegotiable condition for joining the bloc.
Erdogan said on Tuesday it was only natural to discuss whether to introduce the death penalty after the botched coup, and blasted Europe for its criticism.
“If the people have such a demand, (parliament) will discuss it,” he said.
Turning to Europe, Erdogan said if what Turkey faced had taken place in the West, “they would both introduce capital punishment and declare a non-stop state of emergency.”
“Believe me, they do not have the patience, strength and faith that we have,” he said.
Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency after the coup and the sheer magnitude of the crackdown prompted worries among its EU partners of a witch-hunt.
Turkish police on Tuesday raided dozens of companies in Istanbul in search of 120 suspects including CEOs, Anadolu said.
The suspects are accused of financing Gulen’s activities. The identity of the firms was not immediately clear.
Erdogan has vowed to eradicate businesses, charities and schools linked with Gulen, calling them “terror organisations” and “nests of terror.”
Gulen, a reclusive cleric in who has lived in the United States since 1999, has been repeatedly accused of running a “parallel state” since a corruption scandal embroiling then premier Erdogan and several of his ministers erupted in 2013.
Since July 15, Turkey’s crackdown on his supporters has intensified with tens of thousands of people from the military, judiciary, civil service and education sector dismissed from their jobs or detained.
Turkey meanwhile sent a file to Greece asking for extradition of eight Turkish soldiers who fled in a helicopter soon after the failed putsch, Anadolu said.
The eight men — two commanders, four captains and two sergeants — were given a month’s extension for their asylum requests last month.