Critics demand end to 'IHH' accusations

Tuesday's police raid has been widely condemned by prominent sectors of Turkish society who have branded it arbitrary justice with serious potential consequences

Critics demand end to 'IHH' accusations

World Bulletin / News Desk

Earlier this week Turkish police raided the offices of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), Turkey's largest humanitarian aid organization, amid allegations that one of its employees has links to al-Qaeda.

Police raided IHH's office in Kilis, on the Syrian border, in dawn on Tuesday. The operation drew sharp criticism for its timing and location. The district police stated that the raid took place at the offices of IHH due to their inability to locate the suspect's home address. Office computers were confiscated by the authorities, but were returned later in the day. Police is accused of raiding the office without warrant and at a time when the suspect was not supposed to be in the office.

According to a written statement on IHH's website, the staff who were present were forcibly removed from the office. Police reportedly acted to detain the suspect and IHH has not been charged.

Earlier this month, Turkish paramilitary forces stopped a truck in the southern province of Hatay, claiming that the truck was carrying illegal arms to Syria. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, dismissed the allegations saying, "The truck was carrying humanitarian aid to embattled Turkmen in Syria." Some media outlets immediately claimed that the truck was a part of a humanitarian aid convoy bound to Syria, which was organized by IHH.

Turkish officials and IHH later denied the accusations and no official charges were filed.

The search of IHH’s Kilis office came in the wake of anti-graft operations being launched in Istanbul on December 17. The operations have led to the arrests of dozens of high-profile bureaucrats, politicians, and businessmen, including the sons of two former cabinet ministers.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defined the operation as a smear campaign aimed at undermining Turkish society. Erdogan has blamed the so-called ‘parallel state’, mostly backed by police and judiciary and whose members are widely believed to be followers of influential Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement.

IHH was previously accused of terrorism, with links to al-Qaeda, by Israeli officials and some international outlets following the 'Mavi Marmara' incident in 2010. As the lead ship of an aid flotilla for Gaza, the Mavi Marmara was raided by Israeli security forces. Nine civilians, including eight Turkish nationals, were shot dead.

"The attempts to draw a connection between al-Qaida and IHH have reached a new level and those who failed to prove the previous claims now target IHH's staff," IHH said in a statement following the Kilis raid.

Raid condemned, seen as illegal and arbitrary

The raid has been widely condemned by prominent sectors of Turkish society who have branded it as a case of arbitrary justice that could have serious consequences.

"NGOs in Turkey have undertaken very important missions in recent years. The latest incident ruins not only one NGO's reputation but that of all NGOs," humanitarian aid veteran Suleyman Gunduz said to an AA reporter. "The individuals and institutions should be aware of their responsibilities; NGOs should not be sacrificed for the political interests of some parties."

"Being accused of having links to a terrorist group is serious for a humanitarian aid organization... If you have solid proof, then you should search its headquarters, not its branch. If you don't, you cannot even mention its name with al-Qaeda," coloumnist Eyup Can wrote in left leaning daily Radikal."If you are not operating with facts, but only on the perception of management, you are completely misguided."

On Thursday, the head of IHH Bulent Yıldırım said, that IHH is an independent foundation who does not have connections with any illegal organizations.

"We condemn the illegal treatment of our sister organization, IHH. We call for an immediate end to these operations," the head of the Foundation of Turkish NGOs, an umbrella organization, Hamza Akbulut said.

Syrian NGOs fear vital aid will be disrupted

IHH has been carrying out humanitarian assistance and relief to war-torn and disaster-stricken areas including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Palestine, Haiti, and Thailand for 20 years. The organization intensified its effort to provide direct humanitarian aid to Syrians both inside and outside of the country through the charity's Kilis and Hatay branches following the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. IHH provides daily food rations to more than 600,000 Syrians as well as baby formula, flour, bread, blankets, winter clothing, and medicine. It also operates orphanages for children who have lost family in the conflict

"All our efforts (with IHH) are for humanitarian reasons, we have been providing aid across Syria," Syrian Aid Association spokesman Ahmed Ganam said. "We are shocked to see such accusations against IHH, and we are worried that this might interrupt relief efforts."

"We had no one to turn to except IHH to help the 4 million Turkmen in Syria during such a desperate time," Syrian Turkmen Community head Samir Haafiz said, in a joint press conference with six other Syrian NGOs. He stressed, "80% of the aid we received was through IHH."

"Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict. We must rescue them from the brink for their sake and for the sake of Syria's future generations," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake was quoted as saying on the organization's website.

."In Syria, we have no political agenda. Our main goal in Syria is to end human suffering," said Osman Atalay, the Vice President of IHH, underlining they act upon the concerns of UNICEF.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 17 Ocak 2014, 16:08