The Turkish authorities’ unprecedented purge after the failed coup attempt is fast becoming a descent into tyranny.
With little or no judicial safeguards in place under the state of emergency, the sweeping crackdown against wide segments of society is causing long-lasting damage to country’s socio-political cohesion.
Arrests, suspensions, dismissals, confiscation of assets and closure or restructuring of key institutions have already blighted the lives of millions of people in Turkey. They have caused serious hardship and uncertainty for many millions more.
With arbitrary persecutions, the steps taken by the authorities went far beyond legitimate actions of a government that narrowly avoided being toppled.
Partly jubilant after defeating the coup and partly in a state of blind panic, the government does not seem to realize that they are plunging the country headlong into a greater crisis.
So far, the net is cast as wide as “anybody but the AKP”, lumping together all critical voices, along with those genuinely involved in the 15th July coup attempt.
The sheer scale of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown is traumatizing society even more than the abortive coup itself; so much so that even the loyal supporters of the government are beginning to express concern.
Much of this newly emerging sensitivity among some elements of the ruling party is due to the fear of being swept into the net themselves. Visible erosion of the rule of law and injustices against very large number of individuals without evidence of criminal activity, have become too widespread to be ignored.
After encouraging people to inform on their colleagues and neighbours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now stating that some of the allegations may be unreliable. “You cannot tell a horse track from a dog track anymore” Mr. Erdogan said.
The state of emergency paved the way for a further clamp down on freedom of expression and country’s critical journalists are bearing the brunt.
More than 100 journalists have been detained or charged with being behind the coup attempt. Some of them had affiliation with the Gulenist media in the past as reporters or columnist in the then legal media organizations. Others were just as critical of the Gulenists as they were of the government. Neither group is charged with credible evidence of their involvement in a criminal activity. All are recognized names in their profession – some of them deserve censure for bad, unethical journalism – but not accusations of terrorism.
The crackdown on the media has become so ferocious and the human suffering of journalists so alarming, such that the key talking point is no longer presumption of innocence or the burden of proof being on the prosecution.
When Umit Kardas, the lawyer of the veteran journalist Lale Sariibrahimoglu (Lale Kemal), has warned that she may die in prison due to lack of access to essential medical care, this sent a chill down my spine.
A dear friend and a respected colleague for over 20 years, it was bad enough to see her being unfairly incarcerated in prison on trumped up charges of being member of a terrorist organization but to think she may end up suffering permanent damage to her health or worse die, became beyond comprehension.
Her sister Zeynep told me that her family ultimately wanted justice to be served but their priority right now is the safety of Lale. They are demanding her release on remand on health reasons.
There are many others, that have held nothing other than their pens – or keyboards – languishing in Turkey’s prisons with limited access to their lawyers. A recent report compiled by the main opposition party CHP highlights further examples of mistreatment and delayed justice.
The President of the Association of European Journalists, Otmar Lahodynsky has talked about the professional and human aspects of the crackdown on media in Turkey at a recent meeting of Europa-Forum at Hässleholm in Sweden.
Mr. Lahodynsky has told me that the AEJ is actively supporting the efforts of international journalism organizations to show solidarity with journalists facing summary prosecutions in Turkey and campaigning for their conditions to be improved.
Other journalism organizations are keeping up the pressure, too.
An international delegation led by Article 19 has just put out a statement condemning the abuse of the state of emergency to suppress diversity and dissent in Turkey and called upon the government to “to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained without evidence “.
Most of these calls seem to be falling on deaf ears, even though Turkey is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which it ratified in 1954.
Thorbjorn Jagland, general secretary of the Council of Europe, has warned Turkey that without the judicial safeguards being put in place, many more cases from Turkey would land in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In return, Turkey’s Foreign Minister has reassured the Council of Europe that the Turkish government would be transparent in the post-coup attempt process, and it would take the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as its guide.
No doubt, they will be judged by their deeds not by mere words.
This post is also available in: Turkish