Human Rights Day 2017 in Turkey
“There are two overriding problems for every prisoner,” writes Enis Berberoğlu in his recently published book “Notes Written While You March and I’m In Jail.” The first one, Berberoğlu says, is “surviving in jail.” The second is “trying finding ways to get out” (of course through legal means, he adds).
The book is a compilation of notes that he - a member of parliament from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) - has taken since he was sentenced to 25 years in jail on June 14, 2017 on charges on “assisting a terrorist organization” and “conducting espionage.”
Meanwhile on Dec. 11, an Istanbul prosecutor demanded life in jail for three journalists and writers - Ahmet Altan (also a renowned novelist), Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak - who have been under arrest in jail for nearly 450 days on charges of “being a member of a terrorist organization” and also of “having prior knowledge about the military coup attempt” of July 2016.
As of Dec. 10, International Day of Human Rights, there were 146 journalists, writers or media employees in prison in Turkey, according to figures compiled by the Turkish Journalists Association (TCG). As of the same day, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, accused of “spying on behalf of a terrorist organization,” had spent 300 days in jail. Social activist Osman Kavala has also already spent over 40 days behind bars.
The reason for the trial of Berberoğlu (himself a former journalist) is that he allegedly gave documents in 2015 to a journalist, Can Dündar, then editor-in-chief of center-left daily Cumhuriyet who currently lives in Germany. The documents referred to the alleged delivery of military material by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to rebels in Syria, inspected by courts and gendarmerie forces in early 2014.
The members of the court and gendarmerie officials who tried to inspect that material were later put on trial over alleged links to the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt.
The day after Berberoğlu was sentenced to jail, CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started a “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul (where Berberoğlu is in prison). The march covered more than 450 km and took 25 days, attempting to draw attention to “injustice,” the biggest problem in Turkey according to many opinion polls - including those carried out by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) of President Tayyip Erdoğan.
Today, Kılıçdaroğlu himself is subject to a number of investigations opened by prosecutors following denunciations from the lawyers of government officials. Last week, the Interior Ministry suspended Battal İlgezdi, the mayor of the Istanbul’s Ataşehir district from the CHP.
There had already been probes against İlgezdi due to claims of real estate irregularities (some of them started upon Kılıçdaroğlu’s request). But because the latest ones came right after the forced resignation of AK Parti mayors in major cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa and Balıkesir, the CHP leader has characterized the latest investigation against İlgezdi as a “revenge” operation by Erdoğan in order to distract focus from the AK Parti’s municipalities. The CHP claims that the government will suspend at least five other CHP-linked mayors, in a bid to silence Turkey’s opposition through a flurry of court cases.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) currently has a total of 85 mayors suspended from office. Many of them were removed from municipalities following the uprising attempt by the PKK in 2015-16, during which much blood was shed and many neighborhoods in towns in Turkey’s southeast were destroyed.
HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş has been under arrest for over 13 months on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization (together with eight other HDP MPs). He has still yet to be able to appear at court in person. While in jail Demirtaş has written and published a book of fiction, titled “Seher,” which is at the top of the bestseller lists.
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) Chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı recently stressed that the abuse of human rights has increased markedly under the state of emergency, declared by the government shortly after the coup attempt.
Indeed, Turkey’s troubled rights and freedoms outlook is among the major reasons behind its increasing political gap with the West. And like a chicken-and-egg story, that gap only widens as the U.S. and the EU push Ankara away as a result of this outlook.