Turkey: Democracy or State of Fear?
By: Ece Temelkuran
Published Monday, January 23, 2012
"Is this a democracy or an empire of fear?" asked arrested journalist Ahmet Şık at the end of his defense statement during a court hearing on 6 January 2012.
Today, we will be hearing the answer to his question from the Turkish justice system. On Monday, a judge will decide whether the journalists should be released or not. We will then have a chance to know how long journalists can be held in prison without hard evidence, based on an indictment that caused constant laughter in the court for several days.
The indictment accuses Şık and 11 other journalists of attempting to topple the government and of being part in a terrorist organization. Until now, the prosecutors have not presented evidence to back up such accusations.
Şık is one of over 100 arrested journalists in Turkey. Both international award-winning journalist Nedim Şener and author Ahmet Şık are being tried for their writings. Şık was arrested 12 months ago for writing a book entitled The Army of the Imam. The book explores the relationship between the police and the influential Turkish “Fethullah Gülen Movement,” a moderate Islamist transnational network.
Despite efforts by the police to destroy the The Army of the Imam manuscript, his colleagues managed to put it online. In a symbolic gesture of support, 125 of these colleagues signed the manuscript and published it as a book. As one of the people who co-signed the book in support of Şık, I must say that we are quite concerned. Bearing in mind estimates by Turkey’s independent news network that an estimated 500 students and 3500 Kurdish and Turkish politicians, professors, and publishers are in prison for alleged “terrorism" crimes, we have good reason to believe the police will come after us on any given day.
We even have difficulty sharing our thoughts on the phone with friends due to police wire taps and surveillance. Now, after hearing the indictment against our colleagues, we know that a casual conversation or a joke can be taken as "evidence" linking you to a “fake terrorist organization.” Pseudonyms for articles can be interpreted as nom de guerre and a Mediterranean blue cruise plan can be understood as a secret terrorist plot. Ironic as it is, even when speaking about freedom of speech we have to be speechless!
Colleagues who co-published Şık's book are still remembering, with an amazing sense of humor, their silent phone calls when they were planning the gathering in support of the arrested journalists:“So we will meet...eventually...at some point...I mean somewhere." Until telepathy among journalists is tapped by the police, we can consider ourselves safe.
During their 12 months in jail, Şık and Şener, the two most prominent investigative journalists working on paramilitary organizations and their obscure links between religious sects and intelligence services, were not able to find a logical connection between themselves and the indictment made against them. When I visited them in prison, both were speechless about the allegations, which were, according to them, too absurd to make a defense case against. Like other recently arrested journalists, politicians and students, Şık and Şener were desperate in front of the new upside down logic of the Turkish judiciary system.
Nowadays, the accused are expected to prove that they have not done anything against the fundamentals of a sane legal system. As Nedim put it during his defense statement in the last hearing "the prosecutors don't even bother to collect the evidence against us, let alone the evidence in our favor."
The sense of justice is seriously damaged in Turkey, not only because of Şık and Şener’s case, but also as shown recently with the final verdict on the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The court convicted the few thugs who pulled the trigger but denied to acknowledge their links to the intelligence services which were too significant to miss. Ironically, Sener’s latest book was on these very obscure links. The same government that sent Sener to prison has promoted all the high ranking police officers who allegedly have links with that assassination.
Dink's case has been the last incident that caused outrage among the supporters of the government. As Dink's family lawyer Fethiye Çetin stated after the verdict: “The government seems to be on good terms with the ‘deep state.’”
The “deep state” generally refers, as Wikipedia puts it, an alleged group of “influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), Turkish military, security, judiciary, and mafia.” This is the same “deep state” that the AKP government promised to get rid of during the electoral campaign.
In all the courtrooms in Turkey, a writing on the wall behind the judge reads: "Justice is the foundation of the state.” That foundation has been shaken seriously in today's Turkey. Not only because of those thousands of political arrests but also because of the severe contradiction between the verdicts. University student Cihan Kırmızıgül can spend months in prison because he passed by a demonstration wearing a kafiyya whereas several rapers of the 13 year old (aka N.Ç) are free. A 16 year old girl can be ordered by court not to talk to her grandmother because the latter happened to join a demonstrations against the hydroelectric centrals while the Islamist writer Hüseyin Üzmez can be freed after his sexual assault on a minor.
As for today's hearing of the 11 arrested journalists, it is not surprising that the attendance of journalist in support of their arrested colleagues is not as much as the case deserved. During the previous hearing, one of my colleagues told me that he is too afraid to go to the court because he knew that his attendance would be recorded by the police. Like many other colleagues, he was about to move his family abroad. His decision is understandable when you know that many, like him, have been fired because of their stand for freedom of speech in the country. However, I’m quite sure that many committed colleagues will be there, tweeting the case and doing their best to inform the masses, while me and some others will be translating these tweets for the outside world. Unfortunately we have no other option but to overcome the silence in and outside the country.
Ece Temelkuran is a political commentator, novelist and author of several books published in Turkish and English.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.