Turkey’s injustice for all

Hany Ghoraba
Wednesday 29 Aug 2018

Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the country has seldom seen darker days than under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

There is a recurring pattern that is synonymous with the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The latter is sinking to new levels of tyranny by the day, and the pattern is Erdogan’s habit of attempting to consolidate his power through a new wave of arrests after every election he manages to win through faked results.

The Turkish security apparatus manages to apprehend as many dissidents as it can lay its hands on, using every kind of nonsensical or flimsy accusation to keep such people behind bars.

Lately, feuds have erupted between Turkey and the United States and Germany, whose citizens, among those of other nationalities, have been illegally detained by the Turkish authorities.

The case of the currently imprisoned American national Andrew Craig Brunson on espionage charges is one such case, and before him there was the case of the German journalist Deniz Yücel, released in February after facing similar charges.

Both these individuals received international media and political support. However, some of the stories of the Turkish heroes fighting the brutal Turkish regime have been overlooked by the international media.

Such stories include those of Turkish lawyers, judges and activists who once hoped to save their country from tyranny. The Turkish regime has acted as judge and executioner in such cases, and it has even had the audacity to incarcerate those who have defended them. 

According to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative, a Belgian NGO which aims to expose the Turkish regime’s witch-hunt against lawyers opposing its actions, there have been countless acts of arbitrary arrest, violence and even torture against Turkish lawyers over recent years.

Over 521 lawyers have been arrested, 1,307 have been prosecuted and 34 civil society associations have been dissolved. Many of those arrested have been kept in appalling conditions and have not received fair trials.

Among the most striking examples is that of Turkish lawyer Lale Bese. Lale is the Turkish word for “tulip,” and she has been one of the most active lawyers defending victims of the Erdogan regime.

She has been among the few lawyers in Turkey who have opposed the mass arrests and the purges adopted by the regime against dissidents.

As a result, she has paid a heavy price, and the accusations that landed her in prison took the shape of “insulting the Turkish president” in a tweet from 2015.

This is the kind of black comedy that Turkey has been seeing under Erdogan’s rule. Bese was imprisoned on 25 June this year, a day after Erdogan was declared the winner of Turkey’s June elections.

Charges of this sort have been used against other dissidents. The Turkish regime treats both dissidents and their defenders in the same manner, and the Turkish judicial system has been turned into an instrument of the regime.

Bese first became known as a dissident in Turkey for defending a military officer in the famous “Ergenekon” case that finished in August 2013 after five years of trials with the imprisonment of hundreds of Turkish military officers, including on life sentences, for their alleged connections to a group aiming to remove Erdogan from power. Her client was sentenced to time in prison, and she objected by saying that the judges had not been independent in his case.

Bese’s imprisonment may be simply one case among the over 521 lawyers who have been arrested in Turkey and the 1,321 who have been prosecuted, but she remains a symbol of the hardships that practising a profession like defending the innocent can incur in Turkey.

She has already been behind bars for two months, and she is not expected to be released before many more have passed, that is if she is not the victim of another farcical accusation.

The situation of the Turkish justice system is such that even former MP Leyla Birlik filed for political asylum in Greece this week after crossing the border illegally in fear of Erdogan’s judicial persecution.

Birlik faces similar charges to Bese, and, knowing that she would never get a fair trial in her homeland, she decided to flee to Greece.

Moreover, the downward trajectory of the Turkish economy and the rising anger against the Turkish Islamist regime have led the latter to become even more vicious against dissidents.

The regime has now become judge and executioner in a country that has changed from being a bright beacon of democracy to a dark abyss of dictatorship in fewer than two decades.

This has happened as the Turkish government has dismissed 18,000 civil servants, including police and military officers, from their jobs, with these now joining the other 110,000 Turks who have lost their jobs in the never-ending purge of civil society in the country.

Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the country has hardly ever witnessed darker days than under Erdogan’s rule.

His assault on the country’s judicial system has been underway for years, but it became more ferocious after the failed 2016 coup.

Bese will not be the last of Erdogan’s victims, and many more are likely to follow her as the Turkish regime taunts the rest of the world, receiving no support from it except from Qatar, a state which supports terrorism, which has pledged $15 billion in investments in Turkey.

The latter is a desperate attempt to save the ailing Turkish economy, which is taking a nosedive like other facets of life under Erdogan’s rule.

While it is important to expose the practices of the Turkish regime against foreign citizens who have unjustly found themselves in Turkish prisons, it is also important to support Turkish freedom-fighters like Lale Bese and Leyla Birlik in their attempts to save a great country.

*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Turkey’s injustice for all

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