Turkish gov’t hitting below the belt to keep opposition on defensive

Turkish gov’t hitting below the belt to keep opposition on defensive

Upon an order from the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office, Ankara police on Sept. 15 detained Celal Çelik, a lawyer for the leader of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kıçıldaroğlu. 

It is reported that Çelik was taken into custody within the framework of a probe into the “judicial network” of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding Turkey’s July 15, 2016 military coup attempt. 

The accusation is strange because Çelik had resigned from the High Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) on Sept. 26, 2011 in protest at the domination of Gülenist judges in the high court and their manipulative “use of block votes.” He has recently been among the most vocal opinion holders on TV screens saying it was the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) that paved the way for Gülen and his illegal network to infiltrate the state apparatus. During these TV appearances he has frequently quoted President Tayyip Erdoğan’s words in which he asked: “Is there anything that they [Gülen and his followers] have asked for from us that we did not give them?”

CHP head Kılıçdaroğlu reacted to the detention of Çelik immediately, describing it as “a shame for democracy” and an “eclipse of reason.”

For his part, when asked by reporters about the detention Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said it was “the business of the courts.” “I don’t find it right to comment further on it without having any knowledge about the accusations,” he added.

There is no evidence that it was the government that ordered prosecutors to detain the CHP lawyer. However, members of the government and the press have steeply escalated their rhetoric against the CHP, claiming that Turkey’s oldest political party is neither “national” nor “native” and saying it acts in line with “terrorists,” referring to either members of Gülen’s illegal network or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Another concerted campaign regarding the CHP is being carried out against Sezgin Tanrıkulu, an MP and a deputy chairman of the party who has long focused on issues of rights and freedoms. Because he raised the question of whether an armed drone hit civilians instead of PKK militants in a recent security operation in southeastern Turkey, both Tanrıkulu and Kılıçdaroğlu have been repeatedly slammed by President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Yıldırım and other government members for more than a week. The pro-government media argues that Tanrıkulu is trying to forge an alliance between the CHP and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) line, as Tanrıkulu is also of Kurdish origin.

Another CHP deputy, Enis Berberoğlu, is already in prison after being sentenced to 25 years on charges of engaging in espionage and assisting terrorism after providing news material to a newspaper.

All these developments are causing the CHP to spend its energy on defending itself, instead of carrying out resonant strategic campaigns like the recent Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul and the subsequent Justice Conference, both of which sought to highlight that the lack of justice is Turkey’s major current problem. 

It seems that government is enjoying keeping the main opposition on the defensive. In a bid to retake the initiative, the CHP has announced two local rallies in the coming days: One will focus on the destruction of nature during the construction of dams in the eastern province of Tunceli, while the other will focus on publicizing the problems faced by hazelnut producers in the Black Sea province of Giresun.