The end of conservative McCarthyism?

The end of conservative McCarthyism?

At last… After so many rightful complaints, criticisms, and condemnations, the Turkish courts have freed four journalists who were detained for more than a year. And this has raised hopes that the era of witch-hunting might be coming to an end.

Two of those journalists, Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, have become particularly famous, and their case very controversial, for a good reason: Both were authors of books that claimed to expose some alleged wrongdoings by the police. The fact that the very same police arrested them and found “evidence” that they were in fact a part of a coup-plotting network, was quite alarming. The existence of such a network (“Ergenekon”) was most obvious to many liberals in Turkey, but the claim that Şık and Şener were its members looked quite unconvincing.

“This is just too much,” I hence wrote in this column about a year ago and warned about “a risk of McCarthyism.”

Since then, many other signs have emerged which showed that not just the Ergenekon probe, but similar political cases such as “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer), a case against officers, and KCK, a case against Kurdish activists, have indeed gone McCarthyistic. All these cases have been carried out by “courts with special powers,” which proved willing to accuse huge numbers of people with weak and even sometimes suspicious evidence and detain most of them. That’s why all of these cases, which I see as rightful at their core, began to turn into witch hunts.

But why have these courts been so zealous? There are popular conspiracy theories offering spooky explanations, but I prefer a more mundane one: These courts consisted of conservative judges and prosecutors, along with the police that fed them, who simply carried out the long-established Turkish legal mindset. In other words, they were zealous to “protect the state” (this time “the new state” — that of the Justice and Development Party – AKP) and were paranoid about “terrorists,” who could simply be opposition activists.

Alas, Turkey has always been a haven for thought crimes. This time, only the nature of the criminalized thoughts had changed.

Now, while all this was happening, much of the foreign media rightfully criticized the extensive arrests in Turkey, but some wrongly believed that all this took place under the command of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But, in fact, Erdoğan was not the boss of the new aggressive judicial elite: He had only given them a blank check. Yet he was growingly disturbed by their zeal to arrest more and more people, which tarnished his government’s image both at home and in the world.

The turning point came about a month ago, when a prosecutor with special powers wanted to interrogate Hakan Fidan, the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT), and a confidant of Erdoğan himself. This was perceived by Erdoğan and his supporters as an attack on the government itself, and was countered with a rushed law that protects Fidan and a large purge in the Istanbul police.

Since then, it has been expected among liberals that the government would take a new turn, by curbing the over-zealous prosecutors and police that it had let grow, and using its leverage to have controversial detainees released. So, the release of Şık and Şener did not come as a huge surprise.
Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of what needs to be done. In all these political cases – Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and KCK – there are hundreds of detainees who should be free by European legal standards. I am just feeling that we might be at the beginning of a new and better era, in which we will see less paranoia and more freedom.