A three-month deadline given to terror suspects including Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader Fetullah Gülen to return to Turkey for trial ended yesterday and if the government goes ahead with a new regulation, they will lose their Turkish citizenship.
Ankara officially announced three months ago that 130 people will be stripped of their Turkish citizenship unless they return to the country within three months.
The decision by the Interior Ministry was published in the Official Gazette and covers Gülen, who is believed to be behind last year's bloody coup bid, his senior aides and three former lawmakers from two parties linked to the PKK terrorist group.
It is now up to the government to implement the denaturalization process where cases will be individually evaluated again.
Turkish media outlets reported that no one on the list of the 130 people have returned to Turkey so far. Gülen, who has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999, has already ruled out a return to Turkey to testify in trials where he faces multiple life sentences.
The removal of citizenship from those involved in acts of terrorism has been a hotly debated issue in Turkey, especially following a wave of deadly attacks by the PKK in the past two years. The government had not pressed forward on the issue, but following last year's coup attempt, the matter was brought up again in the media.
In January, a new decree issued by the government as part of the post-coup state of emergency paved the way for the removal of citizenship. A court in the southern province of Adana asked the justice ministry to strip Fetullah Gülen of his Turkish citizenship recently in a trial where he is accused of running a terrorist organization. The court said in a letter to the ministry that they were unable to hear the testimony of Gülen and that "the ministry should pursue the necessary action."
The move comes amid Turkey's effort to round up suspects loyal to the terrorist group accused of masterminding last year's coup attempt that left 249 people dead. Ankara has been actively seeking Gülen's extradition from the U.S.
The January decree states that some of the charges eligible for citizenship termination include: Violation of constitutional order, assassination attempt on the president, crimes against the legislative body and armed uprisings against the government - all charges related to the coup attempt.
Thousands of FETÖ members were detained and arrested following the putsch attempt that was staved off thanks to strong public resistance. However, a large number, mostly senior figures of FETÖ, are believed to have fled abroad immediately after the coup attempt or shortly before it happened.
Adil Öksüz, a theology lecturer who is accused of coordinating the coup attempt in his capacity as a senior member of FETÖ along with Gülen, is among the fugitives.
Öksüz is believed to have fled abroad after he was controversially released by a FETÖ-linked judge in the aftermath of the putsch bid.
Most fugitive FETÖ members have been sighted in the U.S., while two high-profile prosecutors linked to the group are believed to be in Germany.
Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara, who were behind several sham trials orchestrated by FETÖ designed to imprison its critics, are in the German city of Freiburg, according to Turkish media outlets.
One of the highlights on the list is an individual named Osman Hilmi Özdil. Also known as "Ömer of Kozan" (after his hometown), Özdil is one of the most prominent, yet elusive, figures in the terrorist group. He is accused of controlling the infiltrators of FETÖ in law enforcement and is believed to be in hiding in Thailand. Turkey has formally submitted a request to Thai authorities to locate and deport Özdil.
Apart from FETÖ members, three names closely associated with the PKK were also included on the list. Tuğba Hezer Öztürk and Faysal Sarıyıldız, former lawmakers from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and Özdal Üçer, a former lawmaker from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), also face losing their citizenship.
Both parties are closely associated with the PKK, and the lawmakers are accused of membership of a terrorist organization and spreading pro-PKK propaganda.
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