Justice you shall get in heaven!
A few years ago, a Turkish newspaper interviewed a famous Constitutional Court reporter, a jurist darling of liberal Islamists, Islamist liberals and their paragenetics. During the interview, a phrase framed on the office wall came to the attention of the interviewer. It said: “Justice you shall get in heaven; here you can only get a verdict.”
I had learned that well, especially when an article published in this column in 2001 earned me a suspended five-year prison sentence (“Turkey’s de jure untouchables,” Turkish Daily News, Aug. 28, 2001) for criticizing corruption within the judicial ranks. A decade later and I now understand we have a sometimes corrupt and very slow justice system. Today we have a sometimes corrupt, much slower, extremely politicized and ironically amusing justice system.
Only in the past few days, we witnessed a coup suspect appearing before court for his defense for the first time, after more than 1,100 days in detention. For the first time, we have parliamentary deputies sitting not in the assembly but in their solitary detention cells. We saw that another coup suspect died of a heart attack in prison even before he was able to appear before court for his defense. We saw that a court issued a warrant to the police to forcefully bring to court an independent Kurdish deputy.
And on Nov. 22, 14 people – including award-winning journalists – went on trial after a nine-month detention, but were unable to make their defense as the court was adjourned until the end of December. They are accused, like hundreds of others, of involvement in a plan to topple the government. Less recently, we saw two students kept under detention for 19 months because they had peacefully displayed a placard demanding free university education during one of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s public speeches. For the curious reader, there is plenty of reading material in the Hürriyet Daily News for details of these de jure excesses which I am not going to repeat.
None of that is funny, especially when we recall that some coup suspects have been under detention for over three years now. But the de jure witch-hunt sometimes blesses us with episodes resembling 1960s kitsch comic books which left a bitter aftertaste because they sported a forced sense of humor and extremities, causing shaking heads rather than laughter. Bad jokes, we call them. One such story is real, though; a mark of the times of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), it was openly presented in Parliament by an opposition deputy just three days ago.
Muharrem İnce, a leading member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), angrily took the floor on Nov. 22 with a pile of documents in his hand and explained to the house what these documents were about. Here is his story, but it’s not fiction from the 1960s; it’s a reality show from the 2010s.
One day Mr. İnce travels to the countryside to speak to the locals and, as it is his job, campaigns for his party while, of course, blasting the government. The police make a report of this “criminal activity,” accusing Mr. İnce of “carrying out propaganda by criticizing the government.” Now take a deep breath, and remember this is not fiction.
Based on the police report, a prosecutor sends Mr. Ince an indictment accusing him of “involvement in activities with the aim of battering the government.” In Parliament, Mr. İnce said that “he does not want to batter the government; he in fact wants to topple it!”
Meanwhile, the prosecutor has requested that Parliament remove Mr. İnce’s immunity – for which he had already submitted a petition. In his speech, Mr. Ince reminded the government of hundreds of other court requests to remove deputies’ immunities to bring hundreds of honorable MPs to justice. “I do volunteer to stand trial, but will you?” Mr. İnce asked government MPs, and was naturally booed. The suspended indictments against mostly government MPs include charges like fraud, corrupting government tenders, swindling public banks, embezzlement and even forging public transport tickets.
Not even in the AKP’s Turkey would I imagine an opposition MP being indicted for “battering the government.” We can count down the days when cats will be indicted for meowing – if the prosecutors think they meow against the government.
Author’s note: I must apologize for a misunderstanding my article on Nov. 23 seems to have caused. I understand that several readers mistakenly thought that the line “Today, Greece needs a decisive Erdogan” referred to an article written by Nikos Konstandaras and appeared in Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17 (“Greece’s mission impossible”). In fact, that line was a reader’s post commenting on Mr. Konstandaras’s article. Although it was explicit in my article that that line belonged to a reader and not to the author, myself and our copy editors apologize for constructing a sentence that was apparently misunderstood by a number of readers.