Thousands of FETÖ convicts will be released by year-end. What then?
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey since the July 2016 coup attempt on suspicion of having links to Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). The first verdicts in these cases started to be delivered last year.
Currently 35,000 FETÖ suspects are under arrest awaiting trial, according to an April 26 statement made by Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül. A sizeable number of them are expected to be convicted over “membership of a terror organization” or “helping a terror organization.” In that case, six years will be the maximum sentence they will get. As most of these suspects have been in jail since the aftermath of the coup, and as some sentence reductions will be applied, thousands will start being released from prison by the end of this year.
What will happen to them then? This seems to be a question that security officials have recently started to ponder.
In the initial aftermath of the coup attempt, the government closed all ears to suggestions of a general amnesty for simple sympathizers of the Gülen movement. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted he was “deceived” by Gülenists, and thousands of people similarly suffered from the same deception, unable to imagine that the network would one day attempt a deadly coup aiming to topple the government. While some names close to the government have benefited from its “mercy,” thousands of others have been denied such an understanding and ended up in prison.
The Gülen network is a vicious organization with a unique way of functioning. Its strength lies in its secrecy. That is one of the reasons why the government undertook a purge embroiling even distant sympathizers, rather than focusing on the executive core of the organization.
So has the government managed to disassociate sympathizers in the outer circles from those in the core, gaining their loyalty? Or has it added new members to its enemies, with these sympathizers due to leave prison harboring even more hostile feelings toward the government?
The Gülen movement is not an organization that will easily give up and dissolve itself. Patience is another of its key characteristics. As a result, those diehard Gülenists who - by hiding their true colors - will succeed in being released soon will no doubt start working to get reorganized. They will likely be a minority of the tens of thousands soon to be released.
How to separate the tiny core elements from the thousands who will try to start a new life after prison? That will be the challenge facing security officers. It will require considerable sophistication on the part of the authorities, which unfortunately we have not seen up to now.
An approach based on “not being able to separate the minority from the majority,” which will only end up stigmatizing tens of thousands of people again, cannot be a solution. If their grievances continue after having spent time in jail for simply having an account in a Gülen-affiliated bank, they may not be turned into loyal citizens but instead encouraged to return to illegal structures.