When the innocent suffer along with the guilty

When the innocent suffer along with the guilty

There is a handy expression in Turkish. The chicken translation of it reads as “the wet burns together with the dry,” referring to wood burning in the fireplace. It basically means “the innocent suffer along with the guilty.”

It is a particularly well-known expression in Turkish because it can be applied to many examples over our 1,000-year history in this region.

Today it could be used to refer to the ongoing probes following the July 15 bloody coup attempt.

There is little doubt that the source of the coup attempt was U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers nestled in the Turkish state apparatus. At least some of the 3,000 officers fired from the military amid ongoing probes are known members of the network. The National Intelligence Agency (MİT) is still working on an encrypted communication system that the plotters had been using in the network both inside and outside the military.

Denouncing it as the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ),” the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, which had previously been close to the Gülenists, is now suspicious of everything its erstwhile allies touched. The number of people suspended from public office now exceeds 80,000, almost half of whom have already been fired. On Sept. 7, the names were announced of 41 businesspeople whose properties have been confiscated or frozen by the government on accusations of financing FETÖ. A number of journalists and writers have been arrested and detention warrants have been issued for many others.  

In the last two weeks there have been complaints from different parts of society that it is not only alleged supporters of Gülen, or those with links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that have been targeted. People simply known to be opponents of the government have been detained, arrested, suspended or fired from their jobs on accusations of being Gülenists or having links to the failed coup attempt.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has taken a clear stance against the coup attempt together with the government, has said it is a critical mistake for the government to try to put all its opponents in jail in the wake of the coup attempt, taking advantage of the state of emergency.

Even President Tayyip Erdoğan himself has also said that accusations circulating in the (particularly pro-government) media about certain people being “FETÖ members, whether related or not” are counterproductive.

The problem of “burning the wet together with the dry” is that if you want to save the wet, you have put the fire out and the dry ends up getting saved from being burnt as well.

Turkey recently experienced this during the Ergenekon and Balyoz probes and cases. Back then, pro-Gülen police officers, prosecutors and judges were at the helm and tried to put everyone they thought was against the government - or rather against their own group interests - in jail, handing out disproportionate punishments with fabricated evidence and sometimes not even giving suspects the opportunity to defend themselves.

The result is that everyone who was targeted in those cases has now been acquitted, despite the fact that under normal circumstances some of them might well have received jail sentences.

In order not to repeat that history, the government must show maximum care not to make the innocent suffer along with the guilty and respect the principle of a fair trial. Indeed, if it does not do so, the situation may end up leading to coup plotters with blood on their hands walking away freely.