Turkey plans to strip 'fugitives' of citizenship, including Gulen: ministry

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s interior ministry said on Monday it would strip citizenship from 130 people suspected of militant links, including the U.S.-based cleric it says orchestrated last July’s failed coup, unless they return to Turkey within three months.

U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

In a list of what it called fugitives from justice, the ministry named Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers Faysal Sariyildiz and Tugba Hezer, and former HDP lawmaker Ozdal Ucer.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement in the coup and condemned it.

The notice said the suspects identified in the list would be stripped of Turkish citizenship unless they returned to Turkey within the time limit and applied to the “relevant authorities”.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said later on Monday that the cabinet would make the final decision on which of the “fugitives”’ would have their citizenship removed.

Asked whether stripping the suspects of citizenship would rule out extradition, as they would not be citizens of the country requesting their return, Kurtulmus said the cabinet would consider this in its decision.

Since the July coup attempt, authorities have arrested 50,000 people and sacked or suspended 150,000, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.

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While Turkish officials say the steps are necessary due to the gravity of the coup attempt which killed more than 240 people, critics in Turkey and abroad say President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent and purge opponents.

More than a dozen HDP lawmakers have also been jailed, mostly due to suspected links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

The party’s co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have also been jailed, handicapping its campaign against the April referendum where Turks narrowly voted for constitutional changes to grant Erdogan sweeping new powers.

The HDP denies direct ties to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Larry King