Nesrin Nas
Feb 24 2018

How is respect measured?

A country’s reputation can only be destroyed so much.

When Turkish-born German journalist Deniz Yücel was released from jail in Turkey last week after a year behind bars without charge, he said neither his arrest, nor his release had anything to do with "justice and law".

"The funny thing is, I still don't know why I was arrested one year ago, or more precisely, why I was taken hostage one year ago — and I also don't know why I was freed today," he said in a video message. 

Germany’s president, chancellor, foreign minister and other senior officials had all been mobilised to lobby Turkey to free Yücel.

A Turkish court accepted an indictment from prosecutors seeking a jail term of up to 18 years for Yücel on charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda”, but freed him, allowing him to flee the country before facing trial.

But the same day, another court sentenced newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and economist Mehmet Altan, and journalists Nazli Ilicak, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı to life imprisonment on terror charges based on their writing.

At the same time, the leader of Turkey’s third largest party in parliament, Selahattin Demirtas, returned to the cell where he has spent more than a year after three days in the dock defending himself against a similar terrorism charges.

Let us put aside the fact of how the joy of seeing Yucel released is overshadowed by the allegations of various bargains made to obtain his release. Let us look at how these three judgments show whether we have a lawful government in Turkey.

Germany has shown once again to the world and specifically to Turkey, what is important to a modern country that values the rule of law. To Germany, its citizens are of paramount importance, not their ethnicity, religious beliefs or opinions.

While Germany’s elected officials accept that everyone who is a German national has the rights and freedoms accorded to them by Germany’s constitution, we have come to realise once again that we cannot accept the rights and freedoms provided to us under Turkey’s constitution.

Despite the fact that Yucel was imprisoned without a hearing or indictment, he was released within 24 hours of  Prime Minister Binali Yildirim saying, “I hope he will be released soon”. It is obvious that Yucel was not a prisoner, but a hostage and a year of his life was stolen from him.

This made clear once again that in Turkey the justice system is under the control of the ruling party and that there is not even a theoretically independent and non-partisan legal system anymore.

Once again it was shown that without foreign citizenship the fate of millions of Turkish citizens rests on the word of one man.

As has been emphasised by Human Rights Watch, the verdicts against the Altan brothers and their co-accused are a precedent for those journalists, writers, and opposition members still in jail, and show how far the ruling party will go to silence opposition.

On the other hand, the diplomatic spat with Germany showed to the world the limits of Turkey’s power, its weak economy and how its defence is dependent on foreign powers.

Turkey’s economy is showing signs of weakness and its deficit is expected to reach 5.4 percent of the national income.

The wounds inflicted to the rule of law that, for now, appear only to impact writers, journalists and opposition members, will widen, and the foreign investment upon which Turkey relies on to bridge its deficit, will melt away. That will inevitably impact unemployment.

When politics leads to the weakening of economic principles and justice, there is a loss of respect in the world and loss of support internally.

The verdicts last week have shown that Turkey is breaking its last ties with the rule of law and an independent judiciary.  This will lead to a great many disturbing shocks.