Silencing dissent or fighting Gülenists?

Silencing dissent or fighting Gülenists?

Turkey’s ruling elites have to make a choice: Do they want to fight against the threat of the Gülen network, or do they want to silence all forms of legitimate dissenting voice in Turkey?

There are valid reasons to try to eradicate the Gülen network and use taxpayers’ money in that endeavor, because this is a threat targeting the Turkish state. However, there is no legitimate reason to silence democratic dissent and the government should not be using taxpayers’ money to that end. Legal forms of dissent are not a threat in functioning democracies, but the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) seems to perceive them as a threat to itself.

While Turkey’s ruling elites remain indifferent to being held accountable over how they spend taxpayers’ money when it comes to security, they should at least realize that they cannot both fight the Gülenists and silence dissent, because the two processes have become mutually exclusive.

The Turkish government is right to believe that members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen network, which it considers to be terrorist organizations, find safe havens in Europe and the United States. It has legitimate concerns about curbing their activities in its allies’ territories.

Indeed, securing Western allies’ cooperation in the struggle against the PKK goes a long way back. That attempt has seen its ups and downs and it took years of perseverance to have the PKK recognized officially as a terror organization.

The case with the Gülen network, however, is new and much more complicated. Very little progress has been registered so far in terms of curbing the Gülenists’ activities, especially in the U.S. and Western Europe. To my knowledge, there is no progress at all on the demand for the extradition of hundreds of Turkish nationals who are believed to be part of the network.

The majority of Turkish officials, even those who are not especially anti-Western, believe that Western intelligence services are behind the Gülenists. They attribute the lack of cooperation to this conviction, which is shared by much of the Turkish public. But while Turkey’s previous ruling elites also suspected Western intelligence services of being behind the PKK, they still did not stop seeking cooperation with their Western interlocutors to at least make life more difficult for the PKK.

On the question of Gülenists, however, the tactic of resorting to a “hostage-taking” policy has not brought the desired result. On the contrary, it has only led to the further deterioration of bilateral ties, which would only make the Gülenists happier.

If Turkey’s rulers want to remain on the track of using legitimate cooperation channels - especially on the extradition files - they must prove that there will be fair trials. How can they expect cooperation from Western capitals when a report by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, which will be published on Oct. 19, argues the opposite. The report on freedom of expression and freedom to do journalism in Turkey has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and states that the detention and prosecution of journalists in the country is “prone to arbitrary applications due to vague formulations.”

According to daily Cumhuriyet’s Duygu Güvenç’s report, Muižnieks says “the measures introduced during the state of emergency, which limit the right to be heard in person by a judge and access to the case file during the investigation stage, have significantly curtailed the right to obtain an effective review of detention.”

“Numerous instances of judicial actions targeting journalists, human rights defenders, academics and members of parliament exercising their right to freedom of expression, indicate that criminal laws and procedures are currently used by the judiciary to silence dissenting voices,” the Council of Europe report adds.

The continuation of the state of emergency and the efforts to silence legitimate dissent by targeting journalists, human rights defenders and academics are only damaging the government’s fight against the Gülenists.

Still, reported plans to ban the symbols of the PKK across Europe, if put into practice, could be a real icebreaker. Ankara could seize this opportunity to take steps to facilitate cooperation with Western allies to make life much more difficult for the vicious Gülen network.

Barçın Yinanç, hdn, Opinion