US lawyers on Wednesday said that they have filed a lawsuit against a Turkish cleric for human rights violations.
Attorney Robert Amsterdam said the case was filed on Dec.7 in a Pennsylvania district court on behalf of three plaintiffs.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial for US based cleric Fethullah Gulen for directing his followers in Turkey “to launch a targeted persecution against a different religious group in Turkey that resulted in the arbitrary and prolonged detention of plaintiffs, along with dozens other members of their religious group.”
Another lawyer, Patrick Egan, told reporters that the targeted group is led by Mehmet Dogan and one that disagrees with Gulen’s teachings.
The plaintiffs include Bunyamin Ates, Turgut Yildirim and Murat Ozturk and will be represented by the law firms of Amsterdam & Partners and Fox Rothschild.
The suit asks the court to rule for "compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, interest, costs, attorney's fees, punitive damages."
It was filed against Gulen and 50 unidentified followers of the cleric who Egan said are involved in criminal action but whose true identities are not currently known or sufficient information about exists to include in the complaint.
Accusations against Gulen and his network number six counts, including false accusations, detention, false imprisonment, and civil conspiracy in Turkey.
The claims are brought under the US Alien Tort Statute that allows foreign citizens to seek remedies in American courts for human-rights violations committed outside the US
Egan said his firm obtained evidence for the case through interviews with the plaintiffs and by other probes.
The complaint was brought forth in the middle district of Pennsylvania where Gulen currently resides.
Egan believes the legal action “will hopefully use the United States courts to have a justice resolution and a civil resolution in this matter.”
The Gulen network was designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey in 2014 after it was found to be spying on classified state data.
As Turkish prosecutors completed an indictment against the organisation in October, the government hired UK-based law firm Amsterdam & Partners to assist in a global investigation that would be empowered to requested Gulen’s extradition from the US.
Amsterdam, a co-founder the law firm bearing his name, noted that the suit should “resonate with those in Turkey because this case follows a long line of Turkish cases where Mr. Gulen and his acolytes have allegedly falsely imprisoned individuals in Turkey.”
Briefing reporters on the investigation, Amsterdam said a series of new developments have emerged in the US since he held his first press conference last month, including US media reports of “systemic illegal political contributions” to US politicians by Gulen followers.
American newspapers have documented Turkish-Americans linked to the network who have made “improper campaign donations” to leading politicians, including President Barack Obama and presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Another investigation by USA Today found that some of those linked to the movement have poured more than $1 million into the Clinton Foundation and the presidential campaign of the former Secretary of State.
Amsterdam also noted that his firm has received a significant amount of evidence from whistleblowers regarding Turkish teachers at Gulen schools.
He displayed a board that he said was given to his firm by one such whistleblower that showed extracurricular activities secretly imposed on Turkish teachers through a point-based reward system.
“We are told in fact that in the Gulen schools the Turkish teachers form cells, form specific groups that meet weekly to discuss their success in respect to their proselytising or movement issues and their bonus for reaching their target is ultimately a visit to the leaders in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Noting “an absolute dual state operating in each school,” he said that investigators tried to reach some of the teachers to help in the probe but the organisation has individuals who are dispatched in the schools who download all computer databases and wiretap the phones of Turkish teachers to ensure information isn’t leaked about any misconduct.
“Turkish teachers are treated as indentured servants,” he said, adding that they do not meet professional standards.
The movement pays hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in immigration fees for employees at Gulen-linked organisations in the US and pours similar amounts into political campaigns across the country.
The Gulen network is the subject of current state and federal investigations in the US, launched primarily by the FBI, according to Amsterdam.
The US inquiries centre on a number of issues, including visas for foreign workers, corruption in bids and public funding for the organisation’s schools.
Amsterdam provided an email address where whistleblowers can provide information, firstname.lastname@example.org.