300 days of justice in Turkey
The arrest and release of the chairman of a football club warmed up the debate over double standards in Turkish justice as the arrest of a group of journalists will mark its 300th day in prison tomorrow.
The last chain of events started on Aug. 6 when defending Turkish football league champion Beşiktaş and Turkey cup winner Konyaspor clashed in Samsun as a neutral field for the Super Cup. Thousands of Konyaspor fans, who traveled 600 kilometers from Konya, first lit torches, which decreased the visibility before they threw objects into the pitch, including a knife. After Konyaspor won the match 2-1, its fans rushed into the field when Beşiktaş players and referees were still there.
On Aug. 10, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) punished Konyaspor as well as Beşiktaş, because of its chairman, Fikret Orman’s statements, protesting the attack on his players. Only one person received an order to be arrested on the suspicion of throwing the knife, out of the hundreds who rushed into the field.
On Aug. 18, an Antalya court announced its ruling about another football match, a play-off game between Göztepe and Eskişehirspor on June 4. A group of Eskişehir fans also lit torches during the match and some of them rushed into the field. Following the court order, 61 Eskişehir fans were arrested by the police for “being members to an illegal organization.”
On Aug. 19, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said in Konya, a vote depot for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) that he was “going to do his best for the decrease” of the TFF punishment for Konyaspor.
But on Aug. 22, the chairman of Konyaspor, Ahmet Şan, testified to a prosecutor over a totally different charge: The intelligence units had allegedly found out he was a user of messaging application, ByLock.
Bylock is an encrypted application developed for the secret communications of the members of the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S. resident Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. The courts have decided that the use of ByLock is evidence sufficient enough to accuse someone of being a member of the network. The courts have arrested thousands of people who had ByLock downloaded on their phones or who have been in communication with those who had ByLock on their phones, since the coup attempt, under the state of emergency declared by the government.
For example, Kadri Gürsel, a journalist who is the head of the Turkish chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI), will have his 300th day in jail tomorrow over accusations that include having text messages and one way calls from a number of ByLock users, mostly with civil society figures as a renowned senior journalist. As a columnist for the center-left daily Cumhuriyet, Gürsel is asked for a life sentence for helping two rival terror organizations at the same time; the “Fethullahist Terror Organization,” or FETÖ, as the indictments call it, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Two other people from Cumhuriyet, Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief and Akın Atalay, the chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation are also about to complete their 300th day in jail tomorrow. Ahmet Şık, another prominent journalist who had previously spent nearly two years in jail for writing against the wrongdoings of Gülen and his followers, will tomorrow have his 239th day in jail. Among Atalay’s “crime evidence,” there is a payment to a handyman who had a bank account in Bank Asya, a bank related to the Gülenist network but which was legal at the time when the payment was made.
As this is the case for the ByLock-linked probes and court cases, the chairman of Konyaspor was released after his smart phones and computers were confiscated by the police. He resigned from the club post the next day, on Aug. 23.
But the first reaction against the release of the Konyaspor chairman came not from an opposition party but from the ruling AK Parti. Metin Külünk, a Konya deputy for the AK Parti, questioned Şan’s release on his Twitter account with accusing the courts of double standards and nepotism, implying that Şan was “protected” by the AK Parti mayor of Konya and the HQ in Ankara. The Konya branch of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also reacted harshly for the release “when many people were imprisoned with slightly ByLock-linked accusations.” Bülent Tezcan, the spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), protested the situation that while journalist Gürsel was in jail for receiving calls from ByLock users, the Konyaspor chairman was released after being detained for being a ByLock user.
Gürsel and other Cumhuriyet journalists are expected to appear before the court on Sep. 11, with once again, the hopes that they will also be released; a sign of a bit of relief in the state of courts in Turkey.