The Haberal case and the need for a fair trial

The Haberal case and the need for a fair trial

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not pleased when he was asked during a press conference in Pakistan last week about the release of Dr. Mehmet Haberal, the professor for many transplant surgeons around the world. He said it was up to the court to release Haberal, not him.

Haberal is on trial in the Ergenekon probe, which is actually an open-ended case – at least so far, as new files have been added to old ones since the case was opened in 2008. The Istanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office claims that a secret terrorist organization called “Ergenekon” (the name of the Central Asian motherland, according to Turkish mythology) was primarily organized within military, judiciary, universities, business and media circles to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government in a series of attempts between 2002 and 2007.

Haberal, then the rector of Başkent University, which he founded, was taken into custody on April 13, 2009, in his house in Ankara and arrested by the court four days later on accusations of being a leading member of the organization.

In order to highlight his case, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) put his name on the candidate list for the general elections on June 12, 2011, despite the fact that politically Haberal has never been a social democrat or on the left. In fact, he was not a personality known for his political identity at all. He was elected and he is still under arrest, like eight other members of Parliament from different court cases, another one being journalist Mustafa Balbay.

On May 23, Balbay’s paper, Cumhuriyet, published a half-page letter by Haberal, who answered allegations of one of the bodyguards of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit. The bodyguard claimed in testimony to the court last week that Haberal did not treat Ecevit properly during his illness in May 2002 in order to replace him with a caretaker and prevent early elections, which took place in November the same year and brought the AK Parti in.

He denied all allegations in the letter, giving dates and details of medical reports of the time and said something interesting: that in his first defense, 365 days after his arrest, he was asked a total of 185 questions in two days but not a single of them was related to any kind of a terrorist organization and that, to this day, he did not know what he was accused of.

This might be important regarding a fair trial, because last week again, Dr. Yalçın Küçük, a professor of economy and a staunch opponent of the government, was barred from 16 hearings because of insisting on questioning another former police officer as a witness. In the sister probe of “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer), in which a number of ranking military officers – including the former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ – are arrested and under prosecution, the court refused to hear the defendants’ lawyers who claim that some of the evidence submitted to the court might not be authentic.

When some of the lawyers demanded to attend the hearings, like the lawyers of the outlawed Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), who have protested the court’s refusal to permit defenses in Kurdish, the government started preparations on a law to permit the courts to make their decisions without the need to hear the final defense of the lawyers.

Yesterday was the 52nd anniversary of the first military coup in the Turkish Republic, May 27, 1960, after which Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan were executed in staged court cases under the military regime. It has always been speculated that if that first coup had been probed and tried properly, Turkey could have avoided the coups in 1971 and 1980 and a “post-modern” one in 1997, which hampered the country’s political and economical progress in addition to producing human suffering.

So it is something good for Turkey that coups of the past and today’s attempts are probed for a better democracy and economy, while keeping in mind that a fair trial is the foundation of justice and that extended periods of arrest and restrictions on the defense are not helping the matter.