Turkey’s coup prosecutions take a controversial course

Turkey’s coup prosecutions take a controversial course

According to Sibel Oral, the wife of writer Murat Özyaşar, the door of their Istanbul apartment flat rang at 5 a.m. on Oct. 1. She was awake at that time to breastfeed their baby girl, to whom she had given birth just 21 days before her husband was suspended from his job as a teacher of literature.

Murat was also awake, and it was he who rushed to the door. After looking through the peep scope in the door he told his wife, who is also a writer and an editor of the K24 website, to not be afraid that the police had arrived.

“When Murat opened the door,” Oral told daily Cumhuriyet, “Seven or eight police officers entered with long-barrel guns and masks. They let me take my baby with me and started searching the room, saying they were members of the anti-terror team and had a court order to capture him.”

No reason was given for the detention of Özyaşar, a renowned writer of short stories who received two prestigious awards in 2008 and 2009. He was taken to the Istanbul police headquarters together with his computer drive and memory sticks. On the same night he was transferred to Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey. No one has been allowed to see him, including his lawyer, for five days, according to the state of emergency rules imposed after the bloody coup attempt of July 15.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), as well as opposition parties and prosecutors, say the movement of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher, is behind the plot, which was attempted by Gülen’s followers in the military. 

The state of emergency was announced by the government in order to target the Gülen network and bring its members to court as soon as possible. This aim is supported by an overwhelming majority of people. It was those people, after all, who resisted the coup attempt by taking to the streets and laying themselves down in front of the tanks, while their representatives in parliament did not stop their session under the bombs of war planes seized by the coup plotters.

President Tayyip Erdoğan has admitted that over 14 years of AK Parti rule, the government has been “mistaken” about the intentions of the Gülenists, who the government now denounces as members of the “Fethullahist Terror Organization” or FETÖ. The Gülenists first started moving into state positions nearly four decades ago, but it was under the AK Parti that they rose swiftly up the stairs of public positions. “We thought our aim was the same as theirs,” Erdoğan has said.

Apart from the existing knowledge in their hands about government positions, the government of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and the probe’s prosecutors have a convenient tool in their hands: The National Intelligence Agency (MİT) have cracked a mobile phone application called “ByLock” that was used almost exclusively by members of the Gülen network.

So far, some 32,000 people have been formally arrested by the courts out of the 50,000 detained. Some 93,000 state employees have been suspended from their positions and almost half have been dismissed entirely.

But not all of those affected were involved in the coup attempt or have links to Gülen.

Social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has asked the government publicly what possible relation leftist TV and radio stations - or the “10,000 leftist teachers” suspended from their jobs - could have with the Gülen movement or the coup attempt.

Murat Özyaşar was one of them. The reason why he was suspended was a one-day boycott he took part in on Dec. 29, 2015, announced by the teachers union Eğitim-Sen, demanding a halt to clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the state security forces. Prosecutors are reportedly looking for possible PKK manipulation behind the teachers’ boycott. Kılıçdaroğlu claims that the government is “exploiting the state of emergency … in order to silence all opposing voices.”

There is also a media dimension to what is happening.

Right after the coup attempt, the government closed down a number of newspapers, TV stations and websites - (which had already been seized by the government last March) - over allegations that they operated as the propaganda and financial source of the Gülenists. What’s more, since the coup attempt almost all editors and writers working in the Gülen-linked media have been arrested.

Senior journalists and writers like Nazlı Ilıcak, Şahin Alpay, Lale Kemal and Nuriye Akman Ural have been arrested without any evidence other than the fact they have written for pro-Gülen publications. Oct. 3 marks their 66th day in jail.

But it is not only those writing for Gülenist publications. For example, the daily Özgür Gündem, which is close to the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in parliament, has also been shut down. It is accused of serving the propaganda purposes of the PKK and many of its editors and writers have been arrested. Among those is its columnist Aslı Erdoğan, a world renowned writer of stories and novels, and reference linguist Necmiye Alpay, who worked for one day as Özgür Gündem’s editor-in-chief in solidarity when its full-time editor-in-chief was arrested. Today is Erdoğan’s 46th day in jail and Alpay’s 36th.

There is also the case of the Altan brothers: Ahmet Altan, a renowned novelist and columnist, and Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and columnist who has in his career worked for various pro-government and pro-Gülen media outlets. Ahmet Altan had worked as the editor-in-chief of daily Taraf, which had published controversial documents used in indictments against the secular establishment in the military, the judiciary and academia in the Ergenekon, Balyoz and Oda TV court cases. Most of those documents were later understood to have been fabricated and the cases were dropped, while the prosecutors and judges who worked on them are now accused of being under the manipulation of Gülen. Today is Mehmet’s 12th day under arrest and Ahmet’s 11th.

As of Oct. 1, a total of 125 writers, journalists, editors and publication owners are in jail in Turkey. Eighteen of them had been convicted before the July 15 coup attempt.

CHP head Kılıçdaroğlu has stressed that if there is suspicion of a crime then nobody should be above the law, but nobody should held under arrest during their trial over what they have written or said.

In contrast, Burhan Kuzu, a professor of law and a prominent figure within the AK Parti who also serves as a legal advisor to President Erdoğan, said in an interview with daily Sözcü that the “CHP’s heart has softened too quickly” and it should maintain it stance “fighting against the threats to the state.”