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.
Only oppositional and independent outlets such as Cumhuriyet, Evrensel, Birgün, Yurt and the daily newspaper Sözcü published FinCEN Files and the Turkish involvement. All digital, independent media did report on it as well. None of the government-controlled newspapers and digital outlets did.
Sociologist Göze Orhon, who was only 2 years old when “it happened”, dedicated her thesis to the memory of September 12. She contends that the untold stories, the lingering tensions within families had a profound effect on the psyche of the following generations.
The visit to Turkey of Robert Spano, the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has caused much concern amongst democrats, academics and people who have suffered from the crackdown here.
As Turkey’s foreign policy gets more aggressive by the day, one might wonder what lies ahead. Every day, it becomes harder in Turkey to defend freedoms, human rights as well as peace and justice.
The sustained plundering of the Black Sea region has resulted in heavy deforestation, leading to more landslides on the coastal line. The government is building a highway that connects plateaus even high up in the mountains, which is causing a terrible loss biodiversity there.
Special sergeant Musa Orhan raped I.E, a young woman who later committed suicide after being hospitalized for more than a month. I.E’s tragic death bears the failings of the Turkish judicial system as well as that of the Kurdish issue.
It appears that Turkey will face mounting problems with regards to the management of the pandemic in the coming weeks. As the government seeks control the pandemic, to be able to boast about its success story, the reality is that its ever-increasing oppression and lack of transparency do not help.
Though he wants to come to power, the main opposition leader does not even know if there will be an election. He insists the days ahead are bright while the AKP-MHP government twists and undermines the few remaining freedoms and rights that prevail in this country: from gender equality to social media.
The convention was introduced here, in Istanbul, back in 2011, and ratified in the parliament a year later. What changed in the last eight years that the AKP came to the point of withdrawing from the Convention? The answer lies in the drastic change in the political agenda, the growing oppression, and the undermining of basic human rights.
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The Turkish government needs to take independent scientific advice into account if it really wants to gain total control of the pandemic. Attempting to suppress critics, the media and scientific advice is not the solution.
Most judges and prosecutors are controlled or suppressed by the AKP-MHP government. Now, the last remaining independent civil rights groups, like the Bar Associations, are under attack.
It is no secret that Emine Erdoğan cherishes high end products, but to mention how much they cost or be critical of her taste is a no-no. This has been the case for more than a decade, even before the Erdoğan family moved into the Palace. Back then, top management in mainstream papers strongly advised […]
After the 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent media crackdown, the mainstream media in Turkey came under the total control of Erdoğan. Their editorial policy was made in accordance with the neo-nationalist, Islamist agenda.
Erdoğan’s primary goal is to keep the oppositional forces split and not face the massive loss of the June 2015 elections once again, which saw the AKP lose its parliamentary majority. The same applies to the local elections of 2019, where the AKP lost its grip on all the country’s major cities. Erdoğan will resort to any means available to remain president, for good.
Disproportionate use of force by the Turkish police does not start nor end with Gezi. There are other cases of killing and the use of torture by the security forces. Usually, the victims are Kurds or Alevis that are accused after their deaths of being terrorists. When it comes to police brutality and use of violence against opponents, who can picture the president of Turkey as a democratic, peaceful and just political figure?
Unlike the actual social distancing lines, the imaginary lines for freedoms and rights in Turkey are blurry and changing. The President and his allies distort and change the law to suit their whims. The Penal Code, the Constitution, and universal law are twisted accordingly.
This year, the May 19 celebrations in Turkey were held within homes due to the coronavirus lockdown. Nationalist and neo-nationalist accounts called for a united celebration at exactly 19:19 in the evening. Even Atatürk as a symbol seems to have been partially adopted by the AKP regime in order to create total control over the public.
Last week President Erdoğan accused the main opposition CHP of "fascism" and "plotting a coup". "We will not give in to terrorists, who are the leftovers of the sword,” he added. ‘Leftovers of the sword’ clearly belongs to the realm of hate speech. Everyone in Turkey knows exactly what it means.
Like the rest of the world, Turkey is discussing when and how to ease the coronavirus restrictions. While shopping malls are to be reopened in 10 days, the Parliament is to be shut down until June 2 and courts until June 15. This gives an idea of the government’s priorities.
Müslüm Aslan was in prison for stabbing his wife. When he was released due to the new parole law, he went to see his children, who were staying at their grandparent’s house with their mother. He took them home, tortured and beat his 9-year-old daughter to death in front of his two sons.
In Turkey, a recent law that was passed by the parliament and which allowed the release of tens of thousands of prisoners was presented as a measure of protection against the coronavirus pandemic. The laws favors people who had been convicted for the Soma mine disaster, the Çorlu train accident as well as convicted police officers who had killed teenagers during the Gezi protests and notorious mafia leaders like Alaattin Çakıcı.
Some medical experts in Turkey argue that the hospitals which were previously emptied by the AKP government, can easily be ransformed into functioning hospitals with minimal spending to treat COVID-19 patients. One might wonder why they were closed in the first place.
Turkey has one of the world’s fastest growing coronavirus outbreaks, confirmed cases double every three days. The statistics, combined with the capacity of the health system and nature of the restrictions raise great concerns. Doctors are forced to apologize for their critical remarks, health workers are banned from making press releases on their conditions. Aside […]
The last time President Erdoğan, who is 66 years-old, physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. Nobody asks whether the President and his close circle have been tested for coronavirus. And of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring.
The Covid-19 will inevitably affect a much wider population, and Turkey’s limited testing is dramatic. Scientists, doctors unanimously urge for a radical testing procedure. In Istanbul, a city of 16 million, there are only four hospitals conducting tests. Meanwhile, states of emergency, strict restrictions and bans are anything but new in Turkey!
As he traveled back to Turkey from Azerbaijan, Erdoğan ominously announced a new wave of repression. A few days later, Osman Kavala was re-arrested, the mayor of Diyarbakır Selçuk Mızraklı was sentenced to more than 9 years in jail and 7 journalists were arrested.
Again we see them on the news, migrants flocking to the borders and the human traffickers going about their “business” in front of the cameras. As thousands of migrants seek to cross the border from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria- some getting injured and dying whilst doing so - authorities talk of them as if they are cheap tokens. Not only in Turkey but in the EU countries as well.
The pro-governmental media in Turkey, which usually targets well-known individuals or critics, targets ordinary people as well. But what’s perhaps more worth talking about is how the life of the poor living in cities has changed — and how they are perceived. They, too, want to live a good life. Or just to be a part of it, even for a few seconds. And they, too, want to show off.
Just as Kavala was preparing for his release after 840 days spent in the Silivri Prison, the prosecutor’s office announced the philanthropist would be questioned on “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order." This proves how partial, arbitrary and politically involved the Turkish judiciary is. Yet the dynamics of this process remain unclear.
It’s hard to voice opposition to war when the coffins of slain soldiers are being sent back from Syria and when the nationalist mood is in full swing. However HDP deputy and former journalist Ahmet Şık, who has been jailed twice and is still tried on the Cumhuriyet case, says that they have the responsibility to question why so many young people are dying for.
The watchmen will not operate under a specific law or the constitution but under the government’s direct orders. Opposition parties thus warn of a “parallel police force” that enjoys unprecedented powers. At night, the watchmen could well turn into the state’s moral police.
Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled for his immediate release on Dec. 10, 2019, Osman Kavala remains as the only defendant under detention at the Gezi trial. So the question is whether the Council of Europe (CoE) and member states will stand up. If they will not do that, what is the function of the ECHR and why should other states bother to follow its rules?
Well-known economists have questioned how Kanal Istanbul will be financed, but they haven’t yet received any answers. Prof. Dr. Haluk Levent from Bilgi University believes that Kanal Istanbul is a Ponzi scheme, but with a difference: in a Ponzi Scheme, everything must be on the record, but this is not the case for Kanal Istanbul. The scheme is changing the town planning and zoning.
The media almost totally neglects or misinterprets cases related to July 15 in fear of being targeted themselves. On the other hand, high-ranking Gülenists, who have long fled the country, are in fact using the cases and prison sentences for their own PR.
Despite the government's pledge to combat femicide and domestic abuse, 474 women were murdered by men in 2019 in Turkey. Women’s rights advocates have repeatedly said the system is too weak to protect women.
Data from the last two years in Turkey points to a steady decrease in almost every aspect of a functioning, healthy democracy, such as freedom of speech, quality of education, gender and income equality, and the rule of law. It’s no surprise that society has become unhappier compared to 2017. Surely the AKP-MHP alliance is responsible for this great social, economic and political collapse.
Two days ago I went to the forth hearing of the Gezi trial in Silivri, where Kavala is the only imprisoned suspect among 16 civil society activists accused with ‘organizing and financing Gezi protests to overthrow the AKP government’ back in 2013. These trials are top examples of how rule of law is undermined and how human rights abuses are executed.
Kanal Istanbul is not only critical for Erdoğan financially. It also represents a political battlefield in which he wishes to beat his opponents, in this case the new opposition Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
General elections appear to be on the agenda in 2023. That is what statements from President Erdoğan and his alliance partner, the MHP leader Bahçeli, suggest. Yet, the prospect of snap elections also looms. Many politicians, economists and journalists claim snap elections will be held in 2020. While snap elections may not seem logical, logics don’t apply to Turkish politics.
The severe violations of sick prisoners rights are against the law and contradict with international agreements Turkey partakes in. Human right advocates accuse the government of being unwilling to address these problems and point to the The European Council, which remains silent.
Just a few hours before police teargassed women in the streets of Istanbul, Emine Erdoğan, wife of President Tayyip Erdoğan, was giving a speech that denounced violence against women on the occasion of the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women. However, Mrs. Erdoğan has also stated that the rise in violence against women is just a perception and that today, thanks to the AKP, women can ask for their rights.
As a journalist, I find it to be embarrassing and paradoxical that President Trump, not known to be a supporter of the free press, mocked the Turkish press.
Yet his words, “You sure you’re a reporter? You don’t work for Turkey with that question?” reflect the truth regarding the group of people Erdoğan took along with him to Washington. These words sum up the status of the Turkish mainstream media.
Turkey generally does not rank high in suicide rates. One reason is religion; in Islam suicide is a sin. Culture and family ties also are among strong reasons why people refrain from taking their lives according to experts. However figures show that there is a rise in suicide rates in Turkey. The society does not only suffer from economical crisis and neo-liberalism, but also a harsh transformation from a hybrid democracy to a more authoritarian state.
Last week, another bunch of journalists were sacked from daily Hürriyet newspaper, which is still considered as the “flagship” of the mainstream media. In fact, Hürriyet lost its prestige long while ago. It doesn’t really matter who the editor in chief is now. Or why and how journalists were sacked. It is the final nail in the coffin. The mainstream media resembles the living death.
By looking at mainstream media, military salutes of popular figures or twitter trending topics, one might assume that Turkish people were heavily supporting the military operation in Northern Syria -officially called “Operation Peace Spring” ending in 8 days- no matter what the rest of the world says. When there is any military action in Turkey or outside its borders, it becomes even harder for critical voices to be heard.
Associate Professor Şık was the deputy director of the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center at Akdeniz University. Then, due to his scientific research, he became an enemy of the state.