It is no secret that the rule of law in Turkey is feeble. In the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020, the country ranked 107th among 128 countries. Data do not suffice to reveal the gravity of the situation and how much people are suffering. In Turkey, tens of thousands opposition politicians, journalists, writers, lawyers and students are unjustly jailed. Two lawyers and one discharged mayor told me about their cases. They are very telling of how the government is manipulating the law to rule over the country. The whole picture is a lot grimmer than these three portraits, yet they offer a glimpse of what is happening in Turkey. 

A recently discharged Mayor: Mehmet Demir

Mehmet Demir and Songül Korkmaz, the HDP co-mayor candidates for the city of Batman in Southeastern Turkey were elected with 66% of the vote in the local elections back in March 2019. 

Since then, the government has seized 40 of the total 65 Municipalities that were won by the HDP. Batman was among the last 8 Municipalities that were forcefully taken over and where trustees were appointed. As some of the mayors are serving time in jail on terror-related charges, some were taken into custody and released with no pending charges. 

Demir and Korkmaz’s homes were raided in the morning of the 23th of March, as the first measures to combat the COVID-19 outbreak were adopted. They were detained for five days and brought to court with handcuffs. The prosecutor asked about the speeches they gave, none of which amounted to a crime. Demir and Korkmaz were both discharged and send home. 

Demir told me that he and Korkmaz endured many financial administrative difficulties imposed by the government when they served. Like many Kurdish cities, Batman had been ruled by government-appointed trustees since 2016-2017. After the local elections, elected officials discovered that these trustees had left the municipalities with debts worth millions, and in some cases, trillions of liras. What is more, as they rule by decree, the trustees can’t be held accountable for their actions. That means that the trustees handed over a financial wreck, which crippled the HDP that were democratically and legitimately elected. 

Demir, a physician, took early local measures for COVID-19 in the city beginning since March 11. He believes that their success is one of the reasons he was discharged. 

Six more journalists in jail: Reporting on the funeral of an MIT officer

OdaTV is one of the most popular online platforms in Turkey. Back in 2010, the then-Gülenist-led judiciary jailed its owners and editors. The OdaTV case was closed in 2017. Editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan and managing editor Barış Terkoğlu are both prominent journalists. “Metastaz”, the last book they co-wrote, was a best seller. It shed light on how the government instrumentalized the judiciary system by appointing AKP and MHP-affiliated judges and prosecutors. Back in February, President Erdoğan himself had pointed to OdaTV’s “connections to the Gezi protests.” An opportunity arose for the government when OdaTV published an article on the funeral of an MIT officer that was killed in Libya. 

Though the intelligence officer’s identity was no secret – IYI Party MP Ümit Özdağ had already disclosed it – OdaTV editors Terkoğlu and Pehlivan and reporter Hülya Kılınç were arrested on the grounds of “revealing secret information on an MIT officer.” Alongside them, the editor of the pro-HDP Yeni Yaşam newspaper Aydın Keser and its managing editor Ferhat Çelik, as well as a contributor to the pro-IYI Party newspaper Yeni Çağ, Murat Ağırel, were also arrested. 

The indictment was published in the Hürriyet and Sabah newspapers over the weekend, before the lawyers got a hold of it. Terkoğlu and Pehlivan’s lawyer Serkan Günel underlines how the pro-government trolls played a role in the process leading to their arrest: “When the report was published on the third of March, a Twitter storm set off, mentioning the Ministry of Interior and General Directorate of Security. Pehlivan knew something would happen but nobody reckoned it would go this far.”

But it did. Günel says that the law can hold neither Terkoğlu nor Pehlivan held responsible for the report, since OdaTV – as it is an online platform – is regulated by the Internet Law. Second, the accusation for sharing intel on the MIT officer is void. This privacy law applies to the living, not the dead. Moreover, the deceased’s info was not a secret. This is perhaps why Terkoğlu and Pehlivan are accused with article 329 of the Penal Code. 

The jailing of a prominent Kurdish writer who suffers from chronic diseases

Kurdish lawyer, writer and politician Mahmut Alınak has been arrested for the tenth time in his life and was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. On February 12th, 2020, his house was raided and he was taken into custody for 5 straight days. Aged 68, he suffers from chronic bronchitis and his family suspects early signs of cancer. But as with all “terror-related prisoners”, Alınak was not granted a parole. 

So what were the grounds for his imprisonment?

– Writing about the unlawful trustee appointments, saying it is trampling the right of Kurdish people to choose.

– Writing that appointing trustees amounts to fascism.

– Writing the word “Kurdistan.”

– Staging an individual protest in the neighbourhood of Kadıköy in Istanbul, by standing up and speaking.

– Writing about unemployment and the high cost of living in Turkey. 

His son and lawyer Bişar Alınak fears that due to his age and chronic diseases, a life sentence will effectively entail in a death penalty.