Turkey’s new law: ‘God’s will’

Turkey’s new law: ‘God’s will’

In his recent speech at the funeral of the killed district governor Fatih Safitürk, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan again referred to capital punishment. “It doesn’t concern us what George or Hans said. What concerns us is what God has said. After a parliamentary decision [on capital punishment], I as the president would approve it.” 

The part on “parliament’s approval” is not new. But the part on “what God says” is new. In previous speeches, Erdoğan used to refer to the people’s will; now he is referring to God’s will. 

According to our honeycombed constitution, the Republic of Turkey is a secular state of law. In other words, religious beliefs and sacred books do not constitute the framework of the law. If legal rules that regulate our daily lives are arranged according to what God says, there cannot be a secular state of law. 

If what God says applies to capital punishment, then why should God’s will not apply in other legal fields?  

If the penal code is going to be adapted to God’s orders, will civil law and commercial law also stop operating according to the secular order? I guess polygamy and a radical change in the law of inheritance would then follow.  

So at a time when the constitution is the subject of so much debate, we now find ourselves face to face with the dysfunction of the constitutional secular order.  

Defense and denial  

The judge who decided to arrest journalists and administrators of daily Cumhuriyet wrote a separate justification for the arrest of its editor-in-chief, Murat Sabuncu. I bookmarked this story, reported in the papers on Nov. 6. 

As signs of Turkey being transferred to a new legal order are appearing one by one, I keep recalling that story. 

Look at what the respectable judge on duty that evening wrote about the decision to arrest Murat Sabuncu:

“The opinion has been reached that there is a possibility for a change in the nature of the imputed offense, with more evidence to be collected and the possibility of the sentence being aggravated. The defensive and denialist attitude of the suspect, which has been reflected in the investigation report and was also observed in the interrogation, has formed a strong suspicion in the office of the judge that he would escape if he is released. His defense and behavior have created strong suspicion in judge’s office that if he is released he would destroy, hide or tamper with evidence, or he would try to put pressure on the victims and witnesses of the crime.”

As you can see, as soon as the judge took a look at the investigation documents, they understood that Sabuncu was guilty and saw that the sentence could even be aggravated.  

Obviously we have a very far-sighted judge here. Some critics might call it “prejudice,” but never mind.  

I want to draw your attention to one particular sentence in the ruling. Those who are writing the legal history of Turkey will certainly note this sentence. It is an excellent example of just how much influence the “zeitgeist,” or the spirit of the time, has on the justice system. 

 The statement is as follows: “The defensive and denialist attitude of the suspect, which … was also observed in the interrogation.” 

This “denialist attitude” drew my attention. Imagine, the prosecutor imputes certain charges and you reply “No, I didn’t do that. It wasn’t me. It has nothing to do with me.” 

This is now regarded a “denialist attitude.” 

Fine, but the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant has committed that crime. The defendant will of course object to a crime if he or she has not committed it. Is this called “denial,” or is it “defense”? 

Clearly, you have to accept all charges leveled against you. 

If you try to defend yourself, this becomes “denial” and you find yourself in jail. This is what has happened to Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu.