The Update : Crime and Punishment in Turkey, 24 March 2012

Nedim Şener

There was some hope, for a fleeting moment, that the release of renowned journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik would mean a watershed moment inTurkey’s recent history of human rights abuses.  We were wrong. It is only going to get worse. Less than a week after his release, Ahmet Sik is very likely to find himself in the court room again, because of his press statements at his release:  “those prosecutors and judges who wrongfully put us behind the bars shall receive the same treatment [sub quote].

Immediately, the pro-Gulen media led by Samanyolu TV, a private broadcaster also implicated as a conduit in the Lighthouse Charity embezzlement scandal launched a vicious campaign against Ahmet Sik.  Voila, three days later a prosecutor with extraordinary powers began probing the statement with a view on pressing charges for defamation of the judiciary.

In any case, AKP government denies that there are over 100 journalists in prison. Ergo, there is really nothing change!  Egemen Bagis, who was hosted at BBC’s Hard Talk claimed some of these villains were even rapists. Sedat Ergin of Hurriyet investigated closely the rap sheets of the poor journalists in prison to out the sex offender.  Only one person fits the bill:  Huseyin Üzmez, a rabid, Islamic fundamentalist writing for Akit, who bought a 13 year old girl from her  mother for his sexual pressure.  He was sentenced to 13 years but “because of his age”, his sentence was commuted[1].

Nevertheless the optimists point to economy minister Babacan’s heartbreaking plea to sustain their hope: “Either the people’s lives are ruined because justice has not been realized, or you put the people in jail and they stay there for years without knowing what the verdict would be. They are not convicts”.

This author argues exactly the opposite.  The crack-down on journalists and anyone expressing opinions disliked by AKP the Gulen Order publicly is destined to taste the world renowned hospitality of the Turkish Penal System. PM Erdogan lambasted all the journalists and intellectuals who dared to criticize his decision to ban early Nevruz celebrations, accusing them of being PKK mouthpieces.

Mehmet Ali Birand

The severity of the  frontal attack scared even the most senior journalist Turkey, Mehmet Ali Birand, a name who has been generally supportive of AKP’s policies in the past.

“The prime minister’s parliamentary group meeting yesterday was fierce. He gave us a good dressing-down, all of those writers, including me, who had said, “If only there was no ban… If there were no bans on Nevruz celebrations, then the celebrations would have been held without conflict, as happened in previous years.”

I don’t know about others, but those who approached this subject from that angle did not deserve such harsh criticism.

The prime minister said this, in a nutshell: Our intelligence officers determined that the Nevruz celebrations were to be transformed into demonstrations against the arrests of members of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). That’s why we put the ban in place.

That’s possible. However, we are not from the intelligence agency. We do not receive this kind of information. Government agencies did not provide any information either. Then the prime minister went on to say, “It is those columnists who are waiting for an invitation from Kandil or İmralı who are criticizing us.”

No one deserved this. 

We could discuss the ban. The prime minister may be right. But journalists — however wrong they may be — have a right to express their opinions. These opinions may be based on insufficient information, but there is one thing that must known: Journalists are not civil servants, and they do not have to harmonize with government policies.

Let public opinion assess journalists. If a journalist writes something wrong, let the public dole out his punishment. I watched Ayşenur Arslan’s show Medya Mahallesi (Media Neighborhood) with astonishment last Wednesday. The consensus was as though it is a journalist’s responsibility to closely monitor the state’s opinions and write accordingly.

Not even close.

The state should inform journalists, but it should not interfere with their evaluations after that. Just the opposite happens here in our country. You have to side with the state.

I have always rejected state journalism. You are now seeing the state journalists of the Feb. 28 era. Unfortunately, now, the government journalists of the present era have begun to emerge. With all due respect to the prime minister, I have never been a “state” or “government” journalist and I never will be”[2].

Fethullah Gülen

The Gulenist police and judiciary are going to run with that pass from Erdogan to bust down another 100 or so of hapless writers.  Under Erdogan,Turkey is back to the 1980 coup days, when expressing even the mildest dissent with the junta’s policies landed you prison terms and brutal torture.

Ohh, by the way, speaking of brutal torture, it is back. This time it is focused on the least protected members of the correctional system:  Kurdish juvenile offenders:

“A recently released Justice Ministry report seeks the arrest of 18 inmates and six prison officials on charges of abusing minors inAdana’sPozantıJuvenileDetentionCenter, which recently came into the spotlight after allegations of rape of minors by adult inmates surfaced in the media.

The report concerns allegations of violence and sexual abuse of minors by adult inmates in the juvenile detention center in Adana. Revealing only the conclusion to the media, the Justice Ministry sent the full text to the Pozantı Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor’s office included the report in the investigation folder for the Pozantı rape claims.

The report states they examined all the evidence revealed by the media and other institutions and contacted all relevant people and that 18 inmates, who are accused of sexually abusing younger inmates in the detention center, should be arrested along with four high-ranking prison officials and two prison guards.

Two hundred minors were transferred to a juvenile detention center in Sincan,Ankara, in early March, and the Ministry of Justice reassigned four officials from the juvenile detention center to other posts as a precautionary measure after the allegations caused heated debate. The ongoing investigation was launched on an allegation forwarded to the Adana Prosecutor’s Office by the Mersin branch of the Human Rights Association (İHD) on July 12 of last year to the effect that a child had written in a petition that they had “heard there was a rape” in the prison. Meanwhile, members of a parliamentary sub-commission who went to Osmaniye province to examine the Osmaniye Prison on March 19 due to prisoner complaints that they had been exposed to violence and degrading treatment concluded that prisoners had faced degrading treatment.

Amidst allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by adult inmates inAdana’sPozantıJuvenileDetentionCenter, new allegations of violence and poor treatment have arisen recently.

After the prisoner complaints concerning poor treatment and violence they were allegedly subjected to in Osmaniye Prison reached Parliament on March 15, Parliament sent a sub-commission to the prison to investigate. Arriving on March 19, the sub-commission conducted research and talked with prisoners and their relatives for two days.

The commission concluded that incidents of physical violence hadn’t occurred, but prisoners had been subjected to degrading treatment due to excessive security measures carried out by prison management.

Degrading treatment included security measures in which visitors were stripped naked and guards checked the inside of their mouths before they could go inside. The commission members told prison management that a person could not be stripped naked for whatever reason; this treatment was degrading to human dignity.

Management defended themselves by saying that they had witnessed some visitors trying to bring razors or SIM cards into the prison by hiding them in their mouths and even their anuses, so they stripped them naked as a protective measure.

The commission members said they will include all these things in the report they will present to the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

Among the allegations was the prison management weren’t feeding inmates who were in the prison with their mothers — not convicts, just children too young to be separated from their mothers — on the grounds that they were not prisoners.

With regard to this allegation, the Justice Ministry released a written statement on Tuesday in which it denied the allegation. According to the statement, they examined the ration charts in the prison and found that the prison was feeding these children.[3]

Remember, this is the official report traditionally penned to cover up the wrong-doing. Since the poor juveniles are still in custody and thus can be intimidated with threats of  more sexual abuse and the journalist who uncovered the story is in detention pending charges of being a KCK member, we shall never know the whole truth.

There is an emerging pattern of behavior here.  The penal system is used to teach  dissenters a lesson.  The only crime is dissenting. And the  true punishment is torture.  They are humiliated  to the point of losing their humanity or even lives, until the laid-back Turkish penal system passes judgment.  They may be cleared of all charges, but the stigma of abuse stains their souls for ever.

There are a multitude of accusations by detainees and their families that medication and adequate nutrition is withheld from them, visiting privileges and recreation hours arbitrarily cut off, condemned to solitary  isolation, forced to lie in cold cells, as well as other more horrifying incidents which this author can’t verifiably  document.

Under Erdogan’s AKP Turkey has truly become the nightmare of George Orwell. The only pressure that intimidates Erdogan and his henchmen is international pressure.  Relentless, suffocating international pressure exposing his crimes and the damage he is  causing to Turkey’s already fragile free speech and human rights movements. In this context, it is a great shame that ECHR ruled to suspended all wrongful detention and improper imprisonment (long trial periods) cases for a year. ECHR is hoping for the development of a domestic remedy. As to the remedy, Milliyet columnist Semih İdiz comments:  “Ankara’s attitude is, I’ll pay the fines and continue abusing anyone I want.[4]” I bet at this moment in the dank corridors of the Ministry of Justice faceless drones are devising Machiavellian plans to have the poor petitioners to jump through more hoops before they can get to ECHR, instead of finding ways to eliminate this shame from the judicial system. I know this, because the remedy is so simple:

  • Redefine  who is a terrorist
  • Amend the Felony Courts Trial Procedures Act to reduce judicial liberty to send people behind bars
  • Use the High Commission of Prosecutors and Judges to demote all members of the judiciary who arbitrarily put people behind bars and ignore ECHR precedents in their rulings.
  • Allow citizens or non-governmental committees to investigate allegations of police and warned abuse.

Nope, it won’t happen. Because both the Gulen Order and AKP feed on terror to preserve their reign inTurkey. Without the threat of  years in prison and maltreatment for their adversaries, they won’t last a day.

Atilla Yesilada

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