Turkish prosecutors sought a life sentence for a popular U.S.-based Muslim cleric named Fethullah Gulen, charging him and 67 others with attempting to stage a coup against the Turkish government, various state-affiliated media outlets reported Friday. Turkish officials have repeatedly sought the aging religious leader's extradition from the U.S., where he has lived in a self-imposed exile for decades in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
Gulen, who leads a popular religious movement that includes highly successful businesses and a chain of schools worldwide, is accused of pulling power in the country’s judiciary and police force to open a massive fraud probe into the ruling AK Party in late 2013. Government officials responded to leaked tapes, which tied high-ranking government officials to corruption, by accusing Gulen and his supporters of attempting to bring down the democratically elected government.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then the prime minister, has launched a wide-ranging campaign against his supporters, aimed at destroying Gulen's movement. "We have gone into their lairs, and we will go into them again. Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account," Erdogan told a business forum in Ankara last year.
Many businesses affiliated with Gulen throughout Turkey, including one of the country's biggest banks, have tanked, as thousands of police officers and prosecutors, accused of having ties to Gulen, were fired or arrested. Critics of the government, including Gulen's supporters, have said Erdogan has exploited the issue to reshuffle the judiciary system in his favor and crack down on dissent, while deflecting criticism from his own government.
Gulen faces charges of attempting to overthrow the government by force or attempting to prevent the government from fulfilling its duties, founding and managing an armed gang and illegally obtaining information related to state security for political and military espionage, the pro-state newspaper Daily Sabah reported.
The indictment awaits approval from the chief prosecutor before moving forward.