Indiscriminate equality in front of the law

Indiscriminate equality in front of the law

After months, a friend who I had not heard from for a long time called. She asked to meet up over coffee. Moments later, we met. She had been out of prison for a long time, but our paths somehow hadn’t crossed. “Shame on you,” she said. “I would expect a friend like you to at least say hello and try to learn the ordeal I have been through.”

She was right. As a close friend, I should’ve called her and asked about her. But through a common friend I had already been learning sufficiently about her situation, and thought that perhaps I should not further disturb her by calling and talking on subjects that she has been fed up with.

“I did not want to disturb you. You’ve suffered a lot. Anyhow our mutual friend Mehmet has been briefing me on your situation rather frequently,” I quipped, looking down, ashamed.

“Don’t be so ashamed… Most friends no longer talk with me. You at least accepted to meet with me publicly moments after I called you. Other old friends have all forgotten about me and my name. They no longer answer my calls,” she said. I didn’t notice whether she was still using her pre-prison line, or using a new line. My assistant had taken her call.

“Are you still using your old number? I assume you changed your e-mail address as well. So did many of my old friends who were temporarily detained or served some time in prison,” I said.

“Well,” she said, “I have a new number. But secretaries remember my name and the moment I reveal who I am they say my old friends are out of office or at a meeting, but never call back,” she said.

As it is no public secret, almost half a million people, directly or indirectly, were affected with the anti-terrorism resolve of the government. Tens of thousands of civil servants, officers and academics were sacked from their positions. Most of them, and their first-degree relatives, were denied the right to travel abroad, their properties and bank accounts were confiscated as part of a drive to drain the finances of terrorist groups.

Many people were acquitted. Many people were reinstated to their previous posts. Some of them were given back their confiscated properties and bank accounts. But people suffered for months, deprived of not only their freedom, but also the fundamental resources on which they lived on as they were without jobs, and thus without salary or pension pay.

These are, of course, extraordinary times. The country has gone through an unprecedented trauma far worse than the overall impact of all of the past military coups. To take adequate measures against putschist groups, bring them to justice and demand them to give account of the crime they committed must be the duty of the government and the judicial system of the country. Justice must prevail.

But isn’t there a problem with the way this country approaches justice? Were Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and such cases of the post-2010 era compatible with the notion of justice? “The nation has been cleansed” was the response of a former minister to criticisms that a revanchist campaign was underway. Laws and the rule of law were replaced with the supremacy of the powerful at the time. Those involved in the revanchist campaign found themselves in prison.

Everyone will need law someday. A judicial system and a law understanding compatible with international norms and values - and definitely built on the supremacy of all in front of the law and equality of all in front of the law - is what should be our common demand at these difficult times.

Yusuf Kanlı, rule of law, Judiciary, Turkey