İbrahim Kaboğlu
Dec 04 2017

Meanwhile in Turkey: "I think, therefore I am a criminal"

We usually reject approaches that try to establish a hierarchy between rights and freedoms. But if it is to be established, then we must remind ourselves of the Turkish Constitution (article 15/2): 

The individual’s right to life, the integrity of his/her corporeal and spiritual existence shall be inviolable; no one shall be compelled to reveal his/her religion, conscience, thought or opinion, nor be accused because of them; offenses and penalties shall not be made retroactive; nor shall anyone be held guilty until so proven by a court ruling.

These are the binding 'core constitutional safeguards' that are valid even in times of war; in other words, these constitute the chain of security for everyone, everywhere. Their assurance is provided within the context of three duties of the State: respect, protect and provide.

Yet it seems that in Turkey, revealing a thought or opinion might result in a violation of that person's right to life. In other words, the punishment of a view could be physical. And those acting on behalf of the State could be the ones taking the lead in this illegal behavior.

The short speech I gave today during the 35th Justice Watch movement at Çağlayan Courthouse provides three legal example cases to consider: the death of attorney Tahir Elçi, the Cumhuriyet newspaper Indictments, and the Academics for Peace (BAK) trials.

The Death of Attorney Tahir Elçi

The speech I gave in Diyarbakır on Nov. 7, 2015 on the invitation of Tahir Elçi was focused on the "lawless environment." Dear Tahir Elçi was murdered in a "lawless environment" just three weeks later. He was murdered defending the preservation of cultural heritage and peace. However, the killers have not been found yet. He was portrayed as a target by the proxies of the state; the state did not protect his life; and now the proxies of the government are impeding an active investigation into his murder.

The Cumhuriyet Newspaper Indictments

The hearing of Attorney Akın Atalay and other members of Cumhuriyet newspaper on Oct. 31 was a clear demonstration of the press, or "freedom of thought", being put on trial. Those who have been released paid the price of their opinions with their physical bodies. Those who are still in prison right now are still paying the price for their thoughts and opinions. Yet, this prosecution process and their imprisonment are entirely against the constitution of Turkey.

The Academics for Peace (BAK) trials

The Academics for Peace trials set to begin on Tuesday, Dec. 5, also show how a series of thought crimes are punishable by sentencing. The academics, who were merely voicing their support for peace, were first targeted by the highest authorities of the state (with insults and threatening terms bordering on hate speech); then later were terrorised by both their employers (universities) and the public prosecutor's offices.

Later, the same academics, whose crime was to sign a declaration of peace, were indicted following the 15 July coup attempt. Based on a half-page statement for peace, hundreds of indictments were issued, and the academics were punished even before the trial started; if this is not an "intellectual cost," what is?

These academicians have been continually targeted by state representatives since Jan. 11, 2016, and will continue to be targeted during their trials. Moreover, the cases are separated, and each file will be tried at a separate court.

The creation of hundreds of indictments from a half-page document alleged to constitute an offense is a clear indication that the legal system has been politicised, even though this is against official procedure.

The shared characteristics of these three cases are: the expression of ideas and thoughts, the voicing of opinions and social problems, and individual or collective outreach, In other words, "democratic opposition".

The first example is a defence lawyer (inconsistent with the principle of the right to a fair trial), the second are the members of the press (which is an indispensable part of a democratic society), and the last example are college professors (attacking the right to free thought).

The common denominators of these perpetrators are;

- They are all fulfilling the requirements of their jobs,

- They are trying to find solutions to social problems,

- And since they criticised the executive branch, they all could be categorized as a part of a “democratic opposition”.

The outcome of their opposition has been:

- They were all indicted for "thought crimes",

- They were targeted and threatened,

- They were all intimidated,

As for urgent demands;

1. The state of emergency (OHAL) should be dissolved. OHAL, which was initially declared in the Southeastern regions of Turkey in 2015, spread throughout Turkey after a change in the domestic security law.

The extended OHAL declared in 2016 was used for a constitutional amendment in the OHAL law and right now is being used to intimidate the democratic opposition. The government must immediately dissolve the OHAL.

2. A fair judiciary should be reinstated: the courts should go back to ruling within the constitution and the international agreements that Turkey is a party to.

3. Thematic analysis and reports on the situation: the Turkish Bar Association should start a probe into human rights violations during OHAL.

4. Human rights advocates must expand their solidarity and gear up for a more visible fight for a return to the rule of law.

5.- The constitution–democracy dialectic should be structured as a trio of "expertise + civil society movements + political actors" towards re-establishing the rule of law as Turkey gets closer to the 2019 election cycle.

Since I started my venture with Ahval by listing suspects in Turkey, and since I am now one of those suspects myself, I thought it would be worthwhile to introduce myself to readers with an article about the legal situation in Turkey.