How Turkish ‘justice’ works

How Turkish ‘justice’ works

Last week, an Istanbul court sentenced a Turkish journalist to ninety days in prison for a piece he wrote 10 months ago. Luckily, the sentence was changed into a fine, so the “convict,” namely Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı, was saved from going to jail. But he became a convict nonetheless, risking a prison sentence the next time he commits a similar “crime.”

Please try to guess what the “crime” was. Based on the recent criticisms and clichés about press freedom in Turkey, here are a few options that I think many readers might readily suspect:

a) Insulting His Excellency Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan

b) Insulting the all-sacred religion of Islam

c) Insulting the most honorable Ottoman Empire

The right answer, however, was none of the above. In fact, Mr. Kütahyalı would probably never do any of the above, because he is known to be a strong supporter of Prime Minister and Erdoğan and the “New Turkey” in which both Islam and the Ottoman Empire are officially praised.

Mr. Kütahyalı was rather sentenced for “insulting” one of the most notorious figures in Turkey’s ancien regime: the late Major Esat Oktay Yıldıran, who was the commander of the Diyarbakır Military Prison during the military junta regime of the early 1980s. In his piece, dated April 9, 2012, published in daily Takvim, Kütahyalı had referred to Yıldıran as “Diyarbakır’s torturer ... who committed many crimes against humanity.” Soon, Yıldıran’s son, Gültekin Selçuk Yıldıran, who himself is also an officer in the Turkish military, sued Kütayhalı for “insulting” his deceased father. He won the case and Kütahyalı got a prison sentence.

However, the link between Major Yıldıran and torture is simply undeniable. During his command, the Diyarbakır Military Prison functioned as “hell on earth,” as many inmates later revealed in books and interviews. Prisoners were systematically beaten, electrified, humiliated, raped, forced to sit in the sewer, and even to eat human feces. Thousands were exposed to such cruelty, and it is no wonder that 34 among them died under torture. This lead Time magazine to list the place as “one of five worst prisons on Earth.”

Some accounts by inmates suggest that Major Yıldıran did not only direct these tortures, but also enjoyed them. Reportedly, he would take especial pleasure from making his dog, “Jo,” attack naked prisoners and bite their genitals. The poor men, and women, were also made to kneel in front of the dog and beg for its mercy.

Major Yıldıran’s end was also in line with his own violent past. In 1988, he was assassinated in a public bus in Istanbul by an outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant, in an apparent revenge operation. “Laz Kemal sends his regards,” the killer reportedly said, before pulling the trigger, referring to one of the inmates who lost his life in Diyarbakır Military Prison.

The weird thing is while that almost every Google search about Esat Oktay Yıldıran will give you such facts about his history with torture, Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı was sentenced for calling him a “torturer” in an opinion column. This does not only remind us that Turkey’s draconian laws on “insult,” and the archaic judicial mindset that interprets them, often act as agents of thought policing. It also proves that they can still serve the masters, and the monsters, of the ancien regime.