The Update – Turkish Politics, 30 January 2012

The Last Castle is under Siege

Silence the opposition

The last castle of democracy in Turkey, the opposition, is officially under siege. MHP is marginalized and intimidated by sex scandals, BDP lives under the threat of a closure case.  Now, it is time to silence CHP, which is attempted through three different means.

This Blogger feels completely vindicated on his suspicions about AKP’s plan to kill democracy in Turkey to become a quasi-dictatorship run by the all-powerful soon-to-be President Erdogan, as report after report by international human rights organizations, EU and the Council of Europe condemned the judicial practices used to silence and persecute the free press and dissidents.

Just to refresh memories, read the following:

Thomas Hammarberg

In a detailed report, the Council of Europe’s commissioner on human rights, Thomas Hammarberg[1], has raised serious concerns that Turkey’s judiciary is threatening fundamental human rights.

“There are real problems in the way the system of justice function, including the judicial system, and that has an impact on human rights,” said Hammarberg. “[That’s] obvious, you don’t have justice in all cases being brought into the system.”

One of the main concerns raised in the report is the growing number of arrests of political party members. The ongoing investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) is cited as a particular concern. Turkish authorities believe the KCK is the political wing of the Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

According to local human-rights groups, more than 4,000 people have been detained since 2009, most of them members of the country’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). BDP parliament member Ertugrul Kurkcu says the detentions have little to do with fighting terrorism and more to do with undermining the political party.

“These people are kidnapped. They have no guilt. Many of them elected people,” said Kurkcu. “Many of them trade union leaders. All influential politicians, middle men in Kurdish politics. They have no relation with violence. They have not even been accused of being affiliated with any kind of violent action.” 

Hammarberg echoed such concerns, saying he believes in many cases there appeared to be little evidence to justify the detentions. Many of those detained in the probe have been held for years without trial. The Council of Europe report also raised pretrial detention as an area of serious concern.

Hammarberg claims his interviews with members of the judiciary suggest pretrial detention is being used as a punishment.

“I was discussing with a prosecutor in Diyarbakir and spelling out there should be reasons to detain someone before the final trial, and he said at least they will learn a lesson. But why does the penitentiary system take on, teach lessons to people who perhaps may be innocent?” Asked Hammarberg. “There have been cases up to 10 years. That [is] absolutely outrageous. No one should be held before [being] proven guilty for such long periods.”

Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) march with posters of their leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Supporters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) march with posters of their leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu during a protest against the government in central Istanbul, January 10, 2012

The leader of the main opposition People’s Republican Party, or CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, strongly attacked pretrial detention earlier this month, and claimed that Turkey is becoming “an open prison.” Two of his parliamentary deputies have been held in jail for more than three years, as part an investigation into an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled against Turkey on the issue of pretrial detention.  Facing mounting criticism, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin announced a package of reforms that include addressing pre-trial detention.

He said decisions pertaining to arrest, or the refusal of a request for release on bail, will now have to be clearly written out. He said the courts will have to justify with concrete facts any strong suspicion that a defendant will commit a crime. He said they will have to make clear the purpose behind a detention and ensure that it is reasonable.

Rıza Türmen

Riza Turmen, a deputy for the main opposition and a former judge for the European Court of Human Rights, says the reforms are cosmetic, and that the reform does not apply to anyone held in connection with anti-terror laws. He adds that controversial portions of those laws have resulted in the detention of nearly 100 journalists – another area of concern raised by the Council of Europe report. 

But Turmen argues a more fundamental threat is facing Turkey. “The problem today in Turkey [is], there is enormous concentration of power in the hands of one party,” he said. “The government controls the judiciary. The government controls all the independent institutions. Turkey has never seen such a big concentration of power, and such a concentration of power is detrimental to any democracy.”

In his report, Hammerberg expresses concern about the government’s influence on Turkey’s judiciary. He acknowledges that Turkey faces a serious problem of terrorism and says the government’s commitment to reform appears to be genuine, but now is the time for action.

“We are still waiting for implementation of signals we have received from the government,” said Hammerberg. “It’s a question of real implementation, not only talks and statements, when it comes to reforms and genuine changes.”

In the early years of its decade-long rule, the AK Party won praise in combating torture and ending extra-judicial killings. But observers warn that good will is fast running out with the main opposition parties, along with a growing body of evidence – of which the Council of Europe report is the latest – that raises concerns about increasing authoritarian tendencies.

The judiciary is captured, along with all the other state agencies and regulatory bodies, media is silenced, dissidents are safely behind bars, and universities are too scared to speak or even defend their students from police brutality, as the ever-present Higher Education Board looks over their shoulders to punish the slightest opposing voice with denial of tenure and disbarment from academia. Even that much is not enough for AKP, which is now encircling the opposition.

MHP has been largely absent from the national debate, after 10 of its former members have been forced into retirement by clandestine sex tapes being aired in pro-AKP media. Judging from the relative quietness of once fiery chairman Bahceli, more may be in the wings.  This Blogger bets that within three months the Chief Prosecutor of Turkey will file charges against BDP for treason at the Constitutional Court.  In any case, the party is so decimated by the never-ending raids on its personnel that it ceased to function in many municipalities.

The last and final castle of democracy CHP, too, is under siege.  AKP is using three means to slowly severe the limbs of CHP. The first method is a new draft by-law for the parliamentary proceedings which eliminates the last few venues for the opposition to speak out against legislation. Through its 10 year tenure, AKP steadily chipped away at the right of free speech under the roof of the parliament. With this final blow, the Grand Assembly will be reduced to a rubber stamp for AKP bills. A recent article in pro-government and Gulenist ZAMAN, too, suggests that the intention of the proposed draft is to silence the opposition, rather than– as AKP claims- “to increase productivity”.

How long will the debates on the amendment to parliamentary by laws last?

The parliamentary Constitution Committee has started to discuss a draft that foreshadows the amendment of the Turkish Parliament’s bylaws. Fifty CHP deputies who oppose the bill signed by Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairmen demonstrated their reaction by rushing into a commission meeting and bullying the chairman and members.

While the AK Party underlines that the aim of the amendment is to increase the productivity of Parliament, the CHP argues that this amendment is an attempt to smother the voice of the opposition and complete the dicta process. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the BDP noted that Parliament’s bylaws, which can be considered to be Parliament’s constitution, should be amended with participation from all parties in the legislature[2].

Some AK Party legal experts agree with them. They admit that despite their good intentions, allowing only the ruling party to determine the functional processes of Parliament would not be appropriate in a democratic parliamentary system.

A former senior AK Party official remarked that the current bill provides for only limited changes. “The parliamentary commission has been set up to work on new parliamentary bylaws. Four parliamentary parties sent members to this commission, which successfully completed its work, and the bylaws drafted by it were submitted to the leaders of these four parties. But for some reason it wasn’t discussed at the plenary session of Parliament. If the opposition parties are not happy with the changes, then they should back the newly drafted bylaws which they have undersigned,” he said.

It appears that by showing them the worst case scenario the AK Party is trying to force the opposition parties to drop their support for the newly drafted by laws.

Muncipalities

The second means is to target select CHP run municipalities and investigate them till they cease to serve the public. The latest victim is the mayor ofIzmirand 30 members of the city hall administration:

A specially authorized prosecutor has requested nearly 400 years of imprisonment for Aziz Kocaoğlu[3], the mayor of the Aegean province of Izmir from the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), on 33 charges in relation to fraud allegations. 

An Izmir court yesterday accepted the 400-page indictment prepared by specially authorized Chief Prosecutor Birol Çengil, thereby tacitly removing the order of secrecy on the trial.

Kocaoğlu stands accused of 33 charges, including official misconduct, forgery, bribery, embezzlement, rigging state tenders, concealing a crime, protecting criminals and establishing and managing a crime syndicate.

The indictment identified Kocaoğlu as the leading suspect and the head of the criminal syndicate. The prosecution has demanded 397 years in prison for the opposition mayor.

The indictment also implicates Ersu Hızır, the municipality’s former secretary general, and Pervin Şenel Genç, the municipality’s current secretary general who remains under arrest, on the grounds of managing a crime syndicate, according to reports.

Police raided İzmir’s Karabağlar Municipality and neighboring Aydın province’s Kuşadası Municipality on May 2, 2011, in connection with fraud claims. The police initially detained 44 people, 10 of whom were later released. Sixteen high-level bureaucrats from the municipality are currently under arrest pending trial.

There is no denying that corruption is rampant in municipalities and should be investigated thoroughly.  However, according toTurkey’s arcane Civil Service statutes, a Ministry of Interior permit is required before the prosecutors can even launch an official inquiry.  That is where AKP’s dirty tricks start.

Gökhan Günaydın CHP Deputy Chairman

[CHP deputy chairman] Günaydın said the government had given the go-ahead for 51 percent of the requests for investigation into CHP local administrations and only for 25 percent of those against municipalities run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)[4].

“The CHP municipalities are subjected to pre-dawn police raids, accompanied by pro-government media, in a manner that is reminiscent of reality shows. Why do the authorities who conduct those raids remain silent about the allegations concerning the Ankara Municipality?” he asked.

He should have added well-documented charges of embezzlement against the mayors ofKayseri and Elazig, not to mention damning allegations that mayors in the earthquake-strickenprovince ofVan have colluded with builders to by-pass safety causes, which may have substantially increased the human toll, are yet to be touched by prosecutors.

The last and most novel but very cheap trick is to use the alleged Baykal sex tapes to dig the dirty laundry of the party:

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has voiced concern that prosecutors could use a probe into the sex tape of former Chairman Deniz Baykal to mount a fresh judicial onslaught against the main opposition party[5].

“Let me put it like this: You will see over the coming days a special-authority prosecutor will come up with a file about the CHP and there will be fuss and commotion again. They will again use imaginary names, anonymous tip-offs and secret witnesses to fabricate something,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in an interview with the private news channel CNN Türk. He did not elaborate further.

Kilicdaroglu is being too polite.  Turks all know how these inquiries proceed.  First, the police requests blanket wire-tapping permits from the courts, which are always granted without question.  All the conversations between the suspects, their families, and acquaintances are turned over to the prosecutor who than duly adds them to the indictment without filtering.  The backgrounds of the suspects are investigated meticulously to find embarrassing incidents.  These, too, are added to the indictment. Even though Turkish criminal laws bar the DA from disclosing details of the suspects private lives’ not pertinent to the charges, this is always ignored. What emerges is not an indictment but a tabloid bio of the suspects, which is than serviced to the pro-AKP press.  By the time the case goes to trail, the public has already formed a very prejudiced opinion of the defendants.  Whether found guilty or not, he or she is marked for ever with Scarlet Letter.

This Blogger can easily predict the fate of the Baykal sex tapes indictment:

  • The culprits will never be identified
  • Any embarrassing incidents in the private lives of leading CHP figures will aired to the public
  • CHP will be linked to Ergenekon, or vice versa.

Democracy in Turkey will be killed the way Chinese tortured their enemies: One small bite after another.

Atilla Yesilada


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One Response to The Update – Turkish Politics, 30 January 2012

  1. JG says:

    I fear you are right. The new parliamentary procedure law is the scariest of all.

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