The problem is deeper than rape and murder

The problem is deeper than rape and murder

A 20-year-old Arif Buğra, a university student, was detained in Kocaeli on the grounds that he participated in a rally organized by the labor union of teachers and education personnel (Eğitim-Sen). Is participating in a rally a crime? No, but the young boy was detained because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was booed and cursed at that rally and policemen believed he was among those who “insulted the president.” Insulting the president of not just Turkey, but any president or head of state is a crime under Turkish Penal Code.

Arif was “old enough” for the Turkish society to say “Well, he must have behaved well. He deserved to be punished. He was old enough to know that he should respect the president.” Such an approach is nonsense, but still, what about the 16-year-old M.E.A. from Konya, who at a school ceremony used some nasty words about the president and will be facing court in March for insulting the president and risking four years’ imprisonment? Is there any notion of justice or democratic governance in this? The young boy was just yelling the word “thief” without any address. Why did the president believe the boy was yelling at him? Worse, why did the prosecutor write such an indictment, why did the judge accept that indictment, resulting in the now going through such an ordeal? Most probably he will be sentenced in March for calling the president a “thief.” Will the court sentence only M.E.A, or at the same time declare to the nation that if anyone uses the word “thief” without a proper address, they might be arrested, tried and sentenced for insulting the president. Of course, I have no intention of accusing the president or his family with massive corruption, misuse of office, nepotism, narcissism or such… Respect for the Turkish, as well as foreign heads of state, is deeply embedded in our culture.

Well, the Turkish president himself has been violating that “no insulting the heads of state” rule of the Turkish Penal Code almost every day. Right, the president has full judicial immunity and can only be tried for treason, but as is said in that old story, we knew him from those times when he had no such immunity. This is not an Orwellian “Animal Farm,” but still, some are just “more equal than others” under the Turkish law.

Cursing at the Israeli president is free, cursing at the Yemeni one is a crime. If anyone dare, they should try to curse at the Saudi king, or the Sudanese… Of course not only heads of state, no one should be cursed at and if anyone curses at someone they should know there is a price for it. The presidents should be no exception to this rule, as the immunity should be restricted to issues that a president under law must sign into law or approve and open the way for implementation. How can a president walk around with glaring eyes, a baritone voice, insulting and humiliating everyone? Worse, how can a president fool an entire nation, publicly declare he is above the laws of the country, undertake anything the way he likes to and laws cannot apply to him or anyone collaborating with him?
Selective justice is no justice. Indeed one fundamental difference between primitive governance systems and modern-day democratic governments is the “equality of all in front of law” principle and the fundamental supremacy of law concept. No individual, body or clan can be “more equal than others” in front of the law and no legislation, royal edict or presidential order can be above the law. Can anyone say “Right, the palace is illegal. No legal construction permit was obtained. It’s construction was not approved by parliament. But if you dare and have the power, come and tear it down… Do it if you dare?”

When parliamentary and non-parliamentary critics of the president and his political clan in parliament dare to talk about universal norms and principles of democracy, they are encountered with a flood of relevant and irrelevant accusations and the majority of the nation – which after almost a decade-and-a-half still are unable to leave behind the 1999-2000 deadly quakes and the 2001 political quake – prefer to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such criticism because of their obsession for “economic and political stability.”

All of this said so far might appear irrelevant with the tragedy of Özgecan, a young girl brutally raped and barbarously dismembered and whose remains were burned by a man, his father and a friend of theirs in Mersin. Since the news of the tragedy reached national media and became an issue people have been mourning for the slain young girl, demanding justice and talking of reintroducing capital punishment for rape and such crimes. Has there ever been anyone executed in this country for rape or such heinous crimes against women? Was it not in this country where up until yesterday, rapists were getting reduced sentences if the women “were proven” to be living an “immoral living style” or earning their living through prostitution? Was it that reactions like “She should have worn a longer skirt” or “If such miniskirts are worn, rape is normal” and such idiotic examples of male chauvinism alien to the Turkish society?

Respect to the supremacy of law, equality of all in front of the law and of course enforcing penalties, rather than providing some sort of amnesty every other day with political motivations, are the needs of Turkey, not the reintroduction of capital punishment. Does anyone have any doubt that should the death penalty be reintroduced, rather than perverts, political opponents will face the gallows?

Let’s hope the outrage over Özgecan’s brutal rape and murder may help the society discuss and rediscover the supremacy of law and the need for a national, and from the top-down, re-education in democratic governance.