Ending the older witch hunts

Ending the older witch hunts

More than four years ago, in this very column, I wrote a piece titled, “Today, I am closer to the secularists,” and I wrote the following:

“We have had enough McCarthyism in this country against religious people. Now we should not let things turn the other way around.” (HDN, January 10, 2010)

What made me write this was the bizarre arrest of Hanefi Avcı, a respected policeman, with the bizarre accusation of being a member of a shadowy militant communist organization. This had come right after a book by Mr. Avcı on the alleged network of the followers of Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gülen within the police force. It was, in other, a suspicious arrest. Hence, in the same piece, I wrote:

“It is clear that Avcı should be released, as should some other people in the Ergenekon case who have been in custody for almost two years now. Let them be tried, but not punished before being sentenced.”

I had a similar stance regarding the other controversial case of the time: the so-called “Sledgehammer” trial, which jailed some 300 hundred officers for supposedly planning a military coup. In a piece titled, “Turkey’s arresting machine gone mad,” I wrote:

“These cases – such as ‘Ergenekon’ or ‘Sledgehammer’ – are carried out with the old tools of the Turkish state, which are ... illogical, illiberal and inhumane. [The case against the KCK, ‘Kurdistan Democratic Confederation,’ is a different, but similar story]. So, the penal code articles on ‘helping a terrorist organization’ can easily turn into criminalization of ideology. And Turkey’s arresting machine, as it has always done, can easily put suspects in prison for years, for accusations that sometimes look very overblown.” (HDN, January 7, 2012)

In other words, I have long been convinced that, the while the “coup cases” that marked Turkish politics over the past six years had some basis, they also turned into witch hunts driven by vengeance and paranoia.

That is why I was very happy this week to hear the verdicts that the Constitutional Court gave on the cases of “Sledgehammer” and Avcı. The Court decided that in both cases, the suspects’ right for a fair trial was not fully honored and both cases needed a retrial. Soon, the 230 jailed officers were released from prison, drawing their much-traumatized families into tears. Avcı’s much-deserved release is also expected to take place soon.

With this verdict, the Court, once again, has proven that it is a fair, non-partisan institution that ordinary citizens can trust. Recently, the Court defended our freedoms by forcing the government to re-open Twitter and annulling the government’s encroachment on the judiciary. With these new decisions, this time the Court corrected the misdeeds of the judiciary. As a citizen, I am grateful.

But what is the political lesson we should learn from these former witch hunts? That there are enemies within who now deserve to taste the very poison they once poured on others? That is what some people think and openly advocate. They say this will be the final purge before heaven on earth. They, in other words, call for a new witch hunt to end all witch hunts.

But, no; that is the wrong way to go. The only way out for Turkey from these repeated waves of McCarthyism is simply to oppose all sorts of McCarthyism. We just need to apply the universal norms of justice, without saying, “but this particular battle is crucial.” The only thing that is crucial is justice. And, thank God, we now have a Constitutional Court that protects that.