From Balbay to Baransu

From Balbay to Baransu

Mustafa Balbay was released from prison on Dec. 9 after an incredible four years and 278 days behind bars. The Constitutional Court has now established that his rights were violated and has awarded him restitution for his long detention and deprivation of privileges as an elected deputy.

This is a landmark ruling for Turkey and increases the credibility of this court in the eyes of its citizens. Balbay’s legal headaches continue, of course, after he was convicted in August to 34 years in prison for allegedly conspiring to topple the government by illegal means with other co-conspirators in the so called Ergenekon case.

He has consistently denied this accusation, saying he was merely doing his job as a journalist and indicating that the evidence used against him is the kind of material to be found on the hard disk of any journalist who deals with the topics he was involved with.

At any rate, he has taken his oath now and sits in Parliament as a deputy, which gives him immunity. Meanwhile, his lawyers are waiting for a verdict on their appeal to Balbay’s 34 year conviction. The ruling by the Constitutional Court has also increased the pressure on those who will deliver this verdict to come up with the right decision.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdoğan is tellingly silent on this ruling. Perhaps this shows he did not expect it and is not too happy about it. He certainly had no shortage of opportunities this week to comment on it. One would have also assumed that he would want to capitalize on this development.

It was, after all, his government that introduced the right of individual citizens to petition the Constitutional Court and it accepted in the referendum held on Sept. 12, 2010, together with a package of constitutional reforms. Erdoğan’s silence is also interesting since he is the one who always talks about justice.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and EU Minister Egemen Bağış, however are not silent. They are highlighting the fact that if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had not opened the way for individuals to apply to the Constitutional Court, Balbay would still be behind bars. There may be some truth in these words, but how sincere are they?

This question is doubly important at a time when another journalist, Mehmet Baransu from Taraf, is giving the AKP a headache with his unwelcome revelations about the government’s stormy relations with the Gülen movement. Erdoğan has declared Baransu a “traitor” because his revelations include secret Turkish intelligence documents.

By accusing Baransu of treachery, Erdoğan is also signaling to zealous prosecutors to have him arrested. The AKP may have introduced the right of individual appeal to the Constitutional Court, but it seems it is not all that happy about the courts first ruling, given the crucial precedent it has set.

Otherwise Erdoğan’s party would like to see this journalist, who is giving him such a headache, behind bars too.

The irony in all this is Baransu is the one whose revelations kicked of the Ergenekon inquiry in the first place, resulting in the arrest of ranking officers, lawyers, journalists and individuals from other walks of life. He does not have many friends today because of this, and there is more than one of his colleagues who are happy to see the table turning on him.

But more crucially, many are questioning why Baransu’s revelations were not considered treacherous by Erdoğan then, when these clearly suited the AKP, whereas his revelations today are. But then, as former Prime Minister and President Süleyman Demirel famously put it once in order to explain away his political inconsistencies, “Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today...”