The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit [order, PDF] against Muhammed Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Muslim cleric and rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official websites], saying the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The complaint [text, PDF] was filed by Bunyamin Ates, Turgut Yildirim and Murat Ozturk setting forth six counts ranging from persecution of members of the Dogan Movement, a religious group, to false imprisonment and civil conspiracy under Pennsylvania state law. Some of these counts were alleged pursuant to the Alien Tort Claims Act [text]. The plaintiffs in the case alleged that Gulen issued orders from within Pennsylvania directing his followers in Turkey to launch “a targeted campaign of persecution against a different religious group in Turkey” in retaliation for criticisms directed against Gulen. They allege that Gulen’s actions ultimately resulted in the wrongful incarceration of plaintiffs and dozens of other fellow members of their religious group in Turkey for periods ranging between 8 and 20 months. Recognizing that the alleged conduct had an impact in Turkey and the Supreme Court’s caution that US courts should “take into consideration the extent to which the Court would be involving itself in foreign policy or passing judgment on foreign decision-making,” the court dismissed counts one through four. The court added that “even assuming that Plaintiffs pled relevant conduct which ‘touches and concerns’ the territory of the United States, the foreign policy consequences of this action weigh against this Court recognizing a cause of action.” In dismissing counts five and six, the court looked to the Act of State doctrine and stated that “Plaintiffs are requesting that this Court judge the validity, and not simply determine the occurrence, of the alleged unlawful actions taken by Turkish officials against Turkish citizens in Turkey, a request the Supreme Court would be barred pursuant to the act of state doctrine.” In dismissing this complaint, the court recognized that Gulen’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction was properly made under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) [text], and rejected the plaintiff’s request for leave to amend.
Gulen is a Muslim cleric of Turkish origin who promotes an Anatolian version of Islam. Gulen has been a lawful permanent resident in the United States since 1998, but he remains active in Turkey through his followers and weekly online Turkish broadcasts. Erdogan accuses [Reuters report] Gulen of attempting to overthrow him, and Gulen still faces charges in Turkey in this regard and for plotting against a rival religious group by fabricating evidence and charges. Gulen’s name had previously surfaced [JURIST report] in August 2010 when Eskisehir Police Chief Hanefi Avci alleged in a book he had recently published that the evidence was distorted and fabricated [Sabah report, in Turkish] by Gulen’s followers, in effort to weaken the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. The government of Turkey has thus far seized newspapers, banks and other companies affiliated with Gulen’s movement.