Thanks to Washington Post we learn that Gezi Parki is not a unique event, but a manifestation of a broader trend in emerging economies for more democratic, responsible and transparent governance. In Brazil, the Roussef administration seems to have gotten the message that the growing urban and middle classes demand better performance. In Turkey, at the other end, PM Erdogan and his lieutenants view Gezi Parki and related demonstrations as the result of a sinister global conspiracy to impugn Turkey’s economic and diplomatic achievements. I refuse honor this accusation with a retort, until the AKP government comes up with names, motives and evidence.
Despite a rising chorus of international condemnation and gentle warnings from allies to treat the Gezi Parki protestors with some leniency, Mr. Erdogan is now determined to quell the sources of unrest by one of the most vicious witch-hunts in recent history.
An editorial in Bloomberg— formerly a bastion of Turkey fans and Erdogan’s advocates– explains the scope of the witch-hunt.
“A hunt has begun for the culprits in a supposed international conspiracy, including banks and news media, which the government claims to have orchestrated the protests. Depending on how far this Orwellian investigation goes, it may have a bigger impact on Turkey’s future than the unrest itself”.
A more damaging initiative by the PM is to embellish two supposed “incidents” to paint the demonstrators as anti-Islam, which raises the specter of violent Islamist retaliation to them in the holy month of Ramadan. In this article, I try to evaluate the evidence for the anti-Islamism of the protestors and sketch the wide expanses of the witch hunt. I have provided links and sources where possible, and stand ready to substantiate my arguments by providing copies of main-stream media articles (in Turkish) detailing the incidents I describe here.
The first ”incident" is the alleged lynching of a young woman in Islamic garb with her 6-month old baby in Kabatas, Istanbul. She claims to have been suddenly surrounded by a mob of 50-60 who first verbally assaulted her, and then began punching and kicking. She goes on to add that an old man and his daughter who tried to rescue her were also beaten savagely.
She has gone public with her accusations, but has not provided a medical report proving physical injury, the father and the daughter alleged co-victim had not come forth. Finally, even though the incident took place in broad daylight in one of Istanbul’s busiest areas, there are no witnesses. I personally condemn any violence against any woman, and urge the authorities to punish the culprits-if they exist- to the full extent of the law. But, the current evidence is not sufficient to substantiate the anti-Islamism of protestors.
The second incident was protestors being chased by police taking refuge in a mosque, where they failed to take off their shoes (a sign of deep disrespect in Moslem tradition), drank beer and fornicated in the holy shrine. The imam (pastor) of the mosque denied allegations of said offenses, except the entry with shoes, despite a six-hour interrogation. The only evidence that beer was drunk came from the police which found an empty can outside the mosque. The only evidence of sexual union is the in the linked video. It looks a like kiss of friendship on the head of girl by her male friend.
Contrary to the allegations, the protestors made unbelievable efforts to remove violent members from the ranks, as many liberal Moslem NGOs joined the marches.
Let’s move to the other side, the witch-hunt. So far I have reports of more than 50 arrests that resulted in detainment pending trial under charges of plotting against the government, in other words, sedition, which carries a prison term of 5-15 years. Since in most cases the courts ordered evidence to be sealed neither the lawyers nor the media has any access to it. Moreover the judges are slapping gag orders on these procedures, meaning covering them in the press is a felony. We have limited evidence from one prosecutors deposition prior to the gag order, which asks the court to try the suspects under Turkey’s infamous Anti-Terror Law, claiming that they are part of an international terror organization. Similitarities to Ergenekon and Balyoz trials ring loud, where membership in an unproven terror organization has been the main crime to put over 500 people behind the bars.
There are three very serious charges of police conducting sexual harassment and violence against young females in detention facilities.
I’m attaching a video of a group of police entering an apartment building to chase scared and unarmed protestors and viciously beating them. There is another one where police herded 26 young men into an underground car park to beat them savagely. They were not charged but released without an incident report.
The most egregious case of the police impunity is the killing of Alevite activist Mr. Ethem Sarisuluk, who was shot by a policeman on video. The suspect was released, with charges reduced to “involuntary manslaughter in the act of legitimate self defense”, while two witnesses for defense were also detained, cutting lawyers’ access to them.
The respective ministries have launched inquiries into the conduct of teachers, lawyers and medical personnel who joined the protest with a view on filing disciplinary charges.
A sweeping investigation of over a million Facebook and Twitter accounts is ongoing, with legislation pending to criminalize “hate-inciting messages” and to restrict usage of social media. These will probably take the form tax investigations against social media to force them to divulge information on protest and support messages.
The only TV channeled that broadcasts the demonstrations live, Halk Tv had already been penalized for TL150 thousand for trivial violations of RTUK’s broadcasting rules and is currently being sued by Erdogan for defamation, which could result in the revoking of its license.
In the newspaper AKSAM, recently taken over by Turkey’s federal deposit insurance authority, three pro-Gezi Parki columnists have been fired without notice or cause.
I have unverified media reports of pro-Gezi Parki civil servants being rotated to remote areas of the country as punishment.
The witch-hunt is leaving no part of the Turkish society untouched. People who banged on pans and pots to support the demonstrations have been charged with “public nuisance”, and are being assed minor fines. A pro-AKP newspaper, Takvim, filed complaints against CNN anchor Amanpour, while another BCC reporter had been labeled a traitor by Erdogan’s personally. Finally, the Capital Markets Board (Turkey’s SEC) is reviewing all transactions during the Gezi Parki protests to find evidence of an international conspiracy to destabilize the Turkish markets.
Make no mistake, this an all-out war on all forms of dissent against AKP, which will claim more innocent victim once the international media turns its back on Turkey.