A year after Turkey’s coup: further away from democracy and rule of law

There are countless court cases against alleged members of the Movement – all linking them to the coup, labelling them as terrorists and depicting their daily activities as secretive acts of infiltrating the Turkish state apparatus. But the indictments lack that most crucial element: evidence.

According to numbers from the Turkish Army General Staff, 8,651 military personnel took part in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice, 168,801 people have been subject to legal proceedings; 50,504 arrested, 48,371 released under police supervision, 8,551 detained for some time and later released, again under police supervision.

One woman soldier was involved in the coup; over 17,000 civilian women are detained. Some of these overlap with the victims of the administrative measures that saw 138,148 public officials sacked, 8,271 academics lose their jobs and titles, 4,424 judges and prosecutors dismissed, and 149 media outlets closed.

The discrepancy between the number and nature of suspects and the number and nature of the victims of the ensuing purge says only one thing: this is not about the coup!

In the initial stages, the purge was all about affiliation with the Gulen Movement, the former ally and later arch-enemy of Erdogan’s version of political Islamism. Having a bank account at the Movement’s Bankasya; using Bylock – an encrypted messaging system allegedly used by Gülenists; subscribing to periodicals of the Movement like Zaman daily or Sizinti monthly magazine; or possessing Fethullah Gülen’s books or even a $1 bill was enough to be detained and prosecuted. Now, it is enough to be a voice of dissent to be labelled as a Gülenist and face the same fate.

There are countless court cases against alleged members of the Movement – all linking them to the coup, labelling them as terrorists and depicting their daily activities as secretive acts of infiltrating the Turkish state apparatus. But the indictments lack that most crucial element: evidence.

I do not claim the coup attempt never took place, neither do I claim that no Gülen-affiliated soldiers were involved. On August 10, 2016, in Le Monde [English Translation], Mr. Gülen weighed this possibility and commented, “If there are any officers among the coup plotters who consider themselves as a sympathizer of Hizmet movement, in my opinion those people committed treason against the unity of their country by taking part in an event where their own citizens lost their lives. They also violated the values that I have cherished throughout my life.”

My claim extends Mr. Gülen’s point: Even if there were Gülen Movement sympathisers in the coup, it is not because of a secret agenda of the Movement, but because of the interventionist culture dominant in the Turkish army; and whatever the number of the Gülenist soldiers involved, this does not prove anything about the rest of the Movement.

What we are seeing is the commonplace profiling of the sympathisers of a Movement without any evidence, execution without due process, collective punishment, guilt by association, enforced disappearances, suspicious deaths and suicides and lately preparations for targeted killings [Dutch] of members who have fled to Western capitals.

Speaking at a photo exhibition of the coup night, Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag complained that Turkey is “not able to tell and convince” the Westerners about what happened. This is a confession in the form of accusation. The US, UK and German authorities have made it clear that what their Turkish colleagues have presented as “proof” of Mr. Gülen’s or the Gülen Movement’s involvement does not amount to evidence by universal standards. Mr. Erdogan is furious at the American unwillingness to extradite Mr. Gulen, who lives in the US. “For the terrorists, you have asked from us, we didn’t ask for evidence!” he said.

This utterance is evidence of no evidence…

The single court verdict so far about the soldiers involved in the coup acquitted 23 out of 24 soldiers of all charges, and underlined that the officer given a life sentence for his participation in the coup had no involvement with the Movement. But AKP politicians do not care for facts. When it was revealed that the police officer Mevlut Altuntas, killer of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, had been attending sermons of a pro-government preacher for two years, the propaganda machinery claimed this was an attempt by the Gulen Movement to throw the security forces off the scent. When police failed to find the Bylock app on the mobile phone of the NASA scientist jailed in Turkey, Serkan Golge, the court decided to check whether Mr. Golge spoke with anybody who had Bylock on their mobile. When Erdogan-critic former prosecutor Gultekin Avci, arrested before the coup, insisted on hearing the crime he was accused of, the judge responded, “What is the hurry? We will eventually find one!”

The coup is the crime “eventually found” for all the sympathizers of the Gülen Movement. They were already on Erdogan’s “to-be-persecuted” list.

The AKP government of Turkey and the prosecutors collaborating with the regime have created a narrative that mixes speculation with facts, extrapolation with witnessed evidence. Indictments prepared against sympathizers of the Gulen Movement take the involvement of Mr. Gulen as a given and base the rest on this “unquestionable” assumption. The indictments are full of legally irrelevant terms like “coherence with the terrorist organization”, whereby prominent journalists are jailed for the alleged coherence of their acts with presupposed acts of the Movement; or “natural flux of events”, whereby tens of thousands of people are prosecuted on the grounds that having been so involved with the movement, it would be against the “natural flux of events” for them not to know of the coup attempt beforehand. Legally speaking, “coherence” boils down to guilt by association, and “natural flux” to collective punishment.

And as human rights advocates have already started to warn, these two are steps towards a genocide.

Renowned journalist Ahmet Altan, who is accused– like the author of these lines – of disseminating “subliminal messages” about the coup, suggested that while writing the indictment for his case, “this prosecutor has made ravishing the law such a habit that our indictment has turned into pornography of the law.” Extending Mr. Altan’s rightful criticism to all the coup cases, I suggest that the Turkish courthouses have become houses of ill-repute.

This article was originally published at Cape Times newspaper on July 14, 2017, and is republished here with the written permission of Independent Online, publisher of Cape Times.

© 2017 Turkey Institute