Opposition’s ‘justice’ march upsets Turkish government

Opposition’s ‘justice’ march upsets Turkish government

The first overt criticism against the “justice march” of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu from Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government came from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ on June 16.

Bozdağ said Kılıçdaroğlu’s words about the Turkish courts being under the manipulation of the AK Parti government were tantamount to slander against the independent Turkish courts and the judges and prosecutors serving there. Without getting into a quarrel with Bozdağ about the 4,000 prosecutors and judges who have been dismissed from their jobs since the July 15, 2016, military coup attempt, as well as his former words that the Turkish judiciary was “worse than the police force,” the CHP spokesmen rejected his criticism, saying they would not take him into account during the 450-kilometer journey, which will take just under a month.

Then came the remarks of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. Upon a question, Yıldırım first mocked Kılıçdaroğlu by saying that if he wanted to visit CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu, who was put in an Istanbul prison on June 14 after being sentenced to 25 years in jail, he could take the high-speed train from Ankara as that would be more comfortable in the summer heat. Then in a serious tone, Yıldırım said that in a state of law, justice should not be found on the streets but in parliament. “When you take the streets, you become vulnerable to provocations,” said Yıldırım. “Nevertheless, our interior minister [Süleyman Soylu] has taken all necessary measures.”

Yıldırım also recalled that it was the CHP group in parliament, including Kılıçdaroğlu and Berberoğlu, which voted to lift the immunities of MPs who have files in the court and that they should have known that the consequences of such a move could be facing the court. A night before, President Tayyip Erdoğan, without specifically mentioning the “justice march,” said that no one should use his or her position to influence the court rulings.

There was an immediate reply from Kılıçdaroğlu, who kept pounding the pavement between Ankara and Istanbul. “The prime minister is paving the way for provocations on the march,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “We will keep seeking justice at every corner.” 

Also reacting to the criticism from Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who said he was “winking at anarchy,” Kılıçdaroğlu said his march was also for Bahçeli, as he might also need justice one day.

The march seems to have gained traction not only on the Ankara-Istanbul route, but across the country. Reports of similar rallies and gatherings on a local scale, not only in big cities like Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, but in the small towns of Anatolia have been especially filed on social media. 

The pacifist nature of the action, by a party leader who is 69 years old and is venturing on a 450-kilometer march over the next 23 days with no party flags or slogans except a small banner saying “justice,” is not something that has been seen before in Turkish politics.