Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A mockery of justice

Amid continuous arrests of Amnesty International and other rights groups leaders and activists in Turkey, hundreds of thousands protested against dictatorship, writes Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian


A mockery of justice

A 25-day march from Ankara, organised by Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, made its final stop in Istanbul Sunday as a first stage of a campaign launched by the CHP leader against the government’s crackdown on lawmakers, journalists and activists since last year’s failed military coup. The rally was the biggest against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since the Gezi Park protests four years ago. The 68-year-old politician was given a great welcome by hundreds of thousands of protesters in Istanbul.

A mockery of justice

While attending a routine workshop on human rights defenders in a hotel on Buyukada Island south of Istanbul last week, Turkish authorities arrested Amnesty International country director Idil Eser and eight other leading human rights activists, including two trainers from Germany and Sweden, as well as the owner of the hotel, linking them to the failed coup.

It is the first time in Amnesty’s history that a country has detained its chair and director at the same time. Taner Kiliç, chair of the country’s branch of Amnesty was detained last month in Izmir province with 22 other lawyers. Turkish authorities accused Kiliç of involvement with the US-based Fethullah Gülen Movement, described by the country’s authorities as a “terrorist organisation”, blaming Gülen himself for the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

“I see this as a wilful effort by the Turkish authorities to criminalise and smear the work of Amnesty’s Turkey branch and Turkey’s domestic human rights groups even though they know very well that the groups are carrying out legitimate work championing rights that breaks no law and which has never advocated violence,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Web told Al-Ahram Weekly in interview. “Arresting human rights defenders shows us how far the Turkish government is prepared to go to stifle all criticism.”

Taner Kiliç was accused of using a messaging application called Bylock that the government says was used by Gülen followers.

The Turkish government defends the measures as necessary for its security, using the term “security” as a justification every time it arrests activists, lawmakers or journalists. “Even though the tactics of jailing Amnesty’s chair and now detaining its director Idil Eser and nine other activists is unprecedented, in fact it continues a long tradition in Turkey that has seen the authorities pursue paranoid efforts to rout out so-called internal enemies or fifth columnists that they claim work with dark foreign enemies intent on destroying Turkey,” said Sinclair-Web, adding that in this narrative Turkey is permanently at risk and that it is convenient for the country’s political leaders who prefer to rule arbitrarily and unchecked. “We’ve seen versions of this narrative run throughout the history of the Turkish Republic.

The pro-government media is saying the police have caught 10 conspirators who are suspected of being members of a terrorist organisation, and President Erdoğan has even linked them with the 15 July coup. No evidence has been presented and the outrageous smear campaign violates the principle of the presumption of innocence,” Sinclair-Web told the Weekly.

It is said that Idil Eser and the rest of the activists when arrested last week were denied access to their families and lawyers for more than 24 hours. Washington-based Turkish journalist and political analyst Uzay Bulut described the situation as “totally insane”. “But the US is unwilling to take any action against Erdoğan no matter what he does,” Bulut told the Weekly.

Still concerned about the bloody incident outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington last March, the Turkish journalist compares it to the visits made in the past by some other leaders like Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Hugo Chavez that never led to such aggression and attacks by security guards. Bulut, in her column published 10 July, asks the question: “Why is Erdoğan so nakedly repressive on foreign soil? How does this fit his agenda?”

Speaking to the Weekly, Bulut said: “Erdogan has been able to penetrate and convince some departments of the US government at the highest level that Turkey is an indispensable ally to have and that it plays a crucial role in US planning. This attitude has persisted for decades and it’s the ongoing consideration in US thinking.”

Bulut believes that Erdoğan has the explicit backing of the US government and that is shown in the actions of the executive branch and that he has many Congressional supporters. 

“The Turkish lobby in the US is very powerful and fully effective because entrenched politicians and their career diplomats are unable to see the real picture,” Bulut told the Weekly. 

She also believes that this failure in the US policy will be extremely damaging to the US in the future. “There is no desire at all in the US government to engage with Turkey. So, things will get worse in Turkey and many parts of the Middle East as long as the US has the present policy in action. And it seems that in the end Turkey will turn into another theocratic dictatorship like Iran,” Bulut told the Weekly.

The April referendum that was passed by a narrow margin expanded the powers of Turkish President Erdoğan and diminished the role of the country’s parliament.

In his statement last week, Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty, said: “The absurdity of these accusations against Idil Eser and the nine others cannot disguise the very grave nature of this attack on some of the most prominent civil society organisations in Turkey.” Shetty urged their immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty called on the release of the activists through a video shared on their Twitter account, reminding Erdoğan that the organisation had campaigned for his release 19 years ago after he was arrested for reciting a poem “inciting religious or racial hatred” when mayor of Istanbul at that time.

“President Erdoğan, remember 1998? We do. Back then Amnesty campaigned for your release when you were mayor of Istanbul, defending your right to read this poem… ”Amnesty stated.

“We have always fought against injustice in Turkey no matter the beliefs of the individuals or the government in power,” Amnesty campaigner Milena Buyum stated in the video. The campaign “Defending Human Rights Is Not A Crime” with its hashtag #FreeRightsDefenders has been trending highly on social media over the past week.

Sinclair-Web calls on the Turkish authorities to release the arrested activists. “The ten must be released immediately, we will work hard to campaign for that to happen,” she told the Weekly.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested, 140,000 dismissed or suspended and more than 220 journalists and media workers are behind bars in Turkey under a state of emergency imposed since last year’s failed military coup.

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