President Erdogan’s Witch Hunt Reached Brazilian Shores

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Turkey and Brazil were once mentioned in the same breath as rising economic and political stars in the early 2000s.

In the intervening years, Turkey has fallen precipitously, both politically and economically. In Freedom House’s just-released Freedom in the World report, Turkey is ranked as “not free” while Brazil remains “free.”

In this context I was saddened to learn that now, Brazil is considering capitulating to Turkey’s demands to extradite Brazilian citizens to Turkey where they will face jail, torture, or worse. I strongly implore Brazil and its leaders to not cave to the demands of a burgeoning dictator, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the 2000s, Turkey attracted attention not only with its booming economy but also as a democracy with a majority Muslim population. However, after his third election victory in 2011, Erdogan made an authoritarian U-turn.

Within a span of five years, big business, the news media and the judiciary fell under Erdogan’s control like dominoes. The deplorable failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, then gave Erdogan the opportunity to dominate the military.

With this accumulated power at his command, Erdogan has used the incident as an excuse to purge, arrest, imprison and otherwise persecute hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens, including journalists, Kurds, Alevis, Kemalists, environmentalists and businessmen who refused to bow to him. But his primary target has been the participants of the peace-loving Hizmet movement with which I am blessed to be associated.

As a person who has expressed his commitment to democracy and rejection of military coups decades ago, I condemned the deplorable coup attempt while it was in progress. But my condemnation, my rejection of any undemocratic attempt to remove an elected government, and my invitation to President Erdogan to allow for an impartial international investigation of the incident received no response. The persecution that targeted hundreds of thousands of citizens without any evidence of a crime is now brought to countries around the world including Brazil.

Since the deplorable July 15 incident, President Erdogan has been using the diplomatic corps and the resources of the Turkish state to pressure foreign governments into deporting Hizmet participants to Turkey in violation of international law and fundamental human rights. His efforts to help extradite me from the United States—where I have been living for 20 years—by using illegal means has made the world news. Similar efforts are ongoing around the world for Hizmet participants, but to much less notice. Not only the United States and European countries, but a whole host of nations around the world have refused Erdogan’s demands by recognizing they are politically motivated. Turkey now considers being associated with the Hizmet movement a crime, a textbook example of guilt by association. Some countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Norway have documented the political nature of Erdogan’s accusations in public documents and court verdicts.

I was saddened to learn that the Erdogan government already has attempted to mislead and manipulate the Brazilian government and the judiciary to help fulfill its political aims by extraditing innocent Brazilian citizens of Turkish descent.

I strongly condemn Erdogan’s effort to pressure Brazil to extradite Brazilian citizens of Turkish origin to Turkey in the service of his domestic political goals. I trust that the Brazilian judiciary will recognize the true nature of his politically motivated false allegations and act in accordance with the Brazilian and internal law. I trust that the Brazilian government will send a clear message to Erdogan that his efforts to extend his witch hunt to the world is not acceptable. I ask that the dynamic Brazilian people also use their diverse voices to shout “you can’t do that here” to this authoritarian leader who is busy undermining every pillar of democracy in his homeland.

I pray that Turkey soon can restore its democratic institutions, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights and freedoms. And I pray that Brazil’s relationship with Turkey can be built on a foundation of mutual respect, mutual growth and the preservation of the dignity of all Turkish and Brazilian people.

Op-ed by F. Gulen