Threats Against Turks in Taipei Referred to Police

Threats Against Turks in Taipei Referred to Police
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像

What you need to know

Threats have been made against people associated with the so-called Gulen movement in Taiwan.

Police in Taipei are investigating claims of harassment and threats of violence made via social media in recent months against members of the “Gulen-inspired” Formosa Institute, a Taipei think-tank focusing on links between Turkey and Taiwan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has blamed the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen for July’s failed coup attempt and classified the group as a terrorist organization. Since the brief uprising, tens of thousands of professionals across Turkey thought to be associated with Gulen-linked institutions – this includes schools, hospitals and media organizations – have faced persecution for their ties to Gulen.

Turkish academic Burhan Cikili, vice-chair of the Formosa Institute, says harassment directed at himself and others associated with institute has been referred to police. Investigations are continuing; police are understood to be in the process of translating the material from Turkish to Chinese.

The alleged perpetrators are Taiwan-based, “pro- AKP” (shorthand for supporters of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party) and are known to the institute, Cikili told The News Lens International in Taipei. The harassment has included direct threats, the collection and dissemination of personal data of the institute’s members, and spreading false information about its activities.

“They are threatening us with emails, Facebook messages, Line messages, threatening us about our lives – they even tell us you will be hanged when you go back to Turkey,” Cikili says.

While the institute’s members do not appear to be fearful for their personal safety, the worsening political situation in Turkey does have them wary. The chief concern is that the false information being reported in Turkey will be taken seriously in Ankara, and eventually could be used to pressure officials in Taipei into taking action against Gulen-linked people.

Cikili points to reports of the deportation of three Turkish citizens from Malaysia earlier this month – he calls it “abduction.”

“President Erdogan, at a press conference, clearly said ‘those Gulenist people [who have] run away from Turkey, they should not think they are safe, we will hunt them down wherever they go,’” Cikili says. "The pro-AKP people in Taiwan [are] hoping the same thing will happen to us, too,” he says.

Photo Credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters / 達志影像
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold an effigy of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen during a pro-government demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2016. The sign reads "execution to feto (an insulting nickname for Gulen)."

The Turkish community in Taiwan is very small – about 200 people, including exchange students, and of those, at least 40 are understood to be involved in the institute. While the threats are only thought to have come from a few individuals – including former institute members – Cikili does not believe they are directly linked to the Turkish government or its representatives in Taiwan.

However, false information linked to the institute has appeared in Turkish news media, Cikili says, adding that he has been named personally.

“They said [in the news reports], ‘This is a secure country for those Gulenist people, hundreds of them came here and they bought US$20 billion to Taiwan, and they control all [Gulenist] money for the Asia region in Taiwan,'” he says.

Asked if there was any basis for the claims, Cikili says a handful Turkish businesspeople did travel to Taiwan in the wake of the coup, looking at potentially relocating, but they have not stayed on permanently – and he stresses these “are not really rich people.”

Cikili has said previously that financial and practical support for the institute has declined amid pressure from Turkish officials in Taiwan, a trend that started after the alliance between Erdogan and Gulen broke down in 2013. Prior to that, the institute and the Turkish office in Taipei had a solid working relationship.

International human rights watchdogs continue to express concern over human rights abuses under the state of emergency in Turkey, which was declared after the coup attempt.

In a joint letter, organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the “far-reaching, almost unlimited discretionary powers exercised by the Turkish authorities during the first three months of the state of emergency – now extended for a further three months – endanger the general principles of rule of law and human rights safeguards.”

They say that Turkish authorities have abused emergency provisions to stifle dissent, through the detention of large numbers of individuals, including “real and perceived” critics of the government.

“The removal of fair trial protections and crucial safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment exceed permissible, justified derogations and risk violating the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the letter says.

“In practice, the application of the provisions enable sweeping arrests, where those detained are not presented with credible evidence, preventing them from challenging or seeking redress for human rights violations.”

The exact scope and ambit of the Gulen group is difficult to define; people and organizations who say they are “Gulen-inspired” operate around world, often focusing on cross-cultural, business and education ties with Turkey.

As former CIA officer Graham E. Fuller, wrote in the Huffington Post, Gulen operates a civil movement called "Hizmet," which translates to "Service," and probably has more than 1 million followers or sympathizers who are not under centralized control.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole