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A Month After Turkey's Failed Coup, Taking Stock Of A Sweeping Purge

Detained Turkish soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup arrive with their hands bound behind their backs at the Istanbul Justice Palace on July 20, 2016, following the failed military coup attempt of July 15.

Since a coup attempt just over a month ago failed to dislodge the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his government has launched a sweeping purge that has impacted tens of thousands over a wide cross section of Turkish society.

More than 40,029 people have been detained and 20,355 arrested since the coup attempt on July 15, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised interview on Wednesday. And while many of them have been released, "a total of 5,187 are still remanded in custody."

Yildirim added that "nearly 80,000 civil servants have been suspended from duty, while 5,014 have been dismissed," the state-run Anadolu News Agency reports.

They're accused of having links to Pennsylvania-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who the Turkish government says is the mastermind behind the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.

"The government says Gulen's supporters infiltrated many sectors of the government over the years, including, apparently, a main surveillance authority that monitors telecommunications traffic," as NPR's Peter Kenyon told Morning Edition. "The facility known by the initials TIB was abruptly closed by emergency decree on the grounds that it was filled with Gulen backers and it carried out illegal wiretapping."

That's just one example. A look at the sheer number of ministries and other agencies impacted by the purge gives a sense of its wide scope.

For example, here is a selection of figures released by Anadolu and compiled by NPR earlier this month:

  • Ministry of Health: 5,581 people dismissed
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock: 1,379 people dismissed
  • Ministry of Sports: 265 people dismissed
  • Ministry of Forestry and Hydraulics: 221 people dismissed
  • Turkish Statistical Institute: 21 people dismissed

As we have reported, most of those detained are soldiers, and many judges and prosecutors have also been taken into custody. Peter said the government is sending other prisoners home early to make room for the supposed "coup plotters." As he reported, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said "38,000 of Turkey's more than 200,000 are going home early," but "no one convicted of murder, sexual assault or terror-related crimes will get early release, and it will only apply to those within two years of finishing their sentences."

The Atlantic recently spoke with parents of detainees in a parking lot outside a prison near Ankara. "Since there wasn't enough room for everyone to lie down at the same time inside the prison, the detainees took turns sleeping on the floor, the parents told me," as the magazine reported. "At the sports facilities and barns where they were held before arriving at the prison, many were denied food and forced to drink water out of a livestock trough."

Amnesty International has reported that it has evidence some of those detained in Istanbul and the capital Ankara have been subjected to torture and rape. The rights group said it received "credible reports that Turkish police in Ankara and Istanbul are holding detainees in stress positions for up to 48 hours, denying them food, water and medical treatment, and verbally abusing and threatening them," as we have reported. It added: "In the worst cases some have been subjected to severe beatings and torture, including rape."

Erdogan later denied the torture report, as The Associated Press reported.

The country is under a three month state of emergency. And these days, "most critics of the Turkish government have been frightened into silence, as Peter reported.

"The mood in Turkey now is a mix of very strong pro-government sentiment and pride that the military was beaten back, combined with an equally strong uneasiness about where the government purge of suspects will head next," according to Peter. "The sheer number of those sacked, suspended or detained has Turks afraid to speak out on controversial subjects like the cleric Fetullah Gulen or whether the government is going too far with the emergency powers it's been granted since the coup."

He added: "Turks would like to believe senior officials who are telling them the economy is doing well despite the failed coup, but the evidence around them everyday of boarded up shops and empty hotel rooms is sending a different message."

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