ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court has accepted an indictment accusing President Tayyip Erdogan’s foe Fethullah Gulen of trying to overthrow the government, state media said on Monday, stepping up pressure on the U.S.-based cleric less than two weeks before an election.
A copy of the indictment seen by Reuters said Gulen is the number one suspect among 69 people accused of running a “terrorist group” behind 2013 corruption investigations, targeting Erdogan’s inner circle, which were later thrown out of court.
Since then, Erdogan has accused his former ally Gulen of seeking to wield power through a “parallel structure” of supporters within the judiciary, police, media and state institutions. Gulen denies the accusations.
The cleric and virtually all the other suspects face life sentences charged with “seeking to overthrow the government or obstruct its activities by force”. He is also accused of “forming and leading a terrorist group” and “obtaining secret information for the aim of political espionage”.
In an indictment heavy with historical references, harking back to the ancient Hittite, Roman and Ottoman states, the prosecution sets out to reveal a “network of treachery nested within the state”.
Unlike these former states, modern Turkey had been unable to fulfill its potential in the face of “ugly interventions, plots, terror and crises” brought about by “our Western ‘friends’” and local collaborators, the document said.
It said Turkey was now facing a “war of liberation”, giving a long account of Turkey’s history and systems of political rule in a 1,453-page document, whether by chance or design 1453 is the year in which Ottoman forces conquered what is now Istanbul.
The court called for fresh arrest warrants to be issued for Gulen and his assistant, Sinan Dursun, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Under another case an arrest warrant has previously been issued for Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. His passport has been revoked.
The court decided to keep eight defendants already in jail in custody pending trial, including former police chief Yakup Saygili. The first hearings in the case were set for January.
Previous trials of alleged coup plots against governments led by Erdogan have fallen apart. Supporters of Gulen within the judiciary have been accused of being instrumental in those prosecutions, allegations which they deny.
In recent weeks Turkish authorities have stepped up investigations into companies with ties to Gulen’s religious movement, which blends conservative, Islamic values with a pro-Western outlook.
The crackdown on Gulen’s followers, who control newspapers critical of the government, has proceeded as Turkey nears a Nov. 1 election where the AK Party Erdogan founded is looking to regain the single-party majority it lost in a June poll.
Erdogan’s critics see the efforts against Gulen as an attempt to squash opponents ahead of the election.
In a series of raids, Turkish police have recently targeted Gulen-affiliated conglomerates including mining-to-media group Koza Ipek Holding and Kaynak Holding, which is involved in publishing.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Janet Lawrence