By Burak Bekdil
October 25, 2014
Where Turkey stands today is a perfect example of how, when Islamists -- mild or otherwise -- rule a county, even the most basic liberties are systematically suppressed.
"A climate of fear has emerged in Turkey." — Hasam Kilic, President, Turkey's Constitutional Court.
The prosecutor demanded a heavier penalty for the victim than for her torturers.
The European Commission identified government interference in the judiciary and bans imposed on social media as the major sources of concern regarding Turkey's candidacy for full membership.
"We have made the conservative, pious [Muslim] masses not just a part, but a major actor of the political system." Thus said Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, not even trying to hide his pride.
Where Turkey stands today is a perfect example of how, when Islamists -- mild or otherwise -- rule a country, even the most basic liberties are systematically suppressed. The seal of approval for the terrible failure of what U.S. President Barack Obama once called a "successful Muslim democracy" came from the country's top judge.
Hasim Kilic, President of Turkey's Constitutional Court, and himself a conservative, recently said that, "A climate of fear has emerged in Turkey;" and he called on the Turks "to resist [it], and not give up." It is not always easy to do so.
When angry Turks took to the streets to protest the Justice and Development Party [AKP] and faced brutal police violence last year, Mehmet Ali Sahin, Deputy Chairman of the AKP (and former Justice Minister and Speaker of the Parliament) suggested that millions of protestors should be given life sentences under Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code -- which states that "anyone trying to destroy the government or to prevent it from partially or fully performing its duties shall be punished by aggravated life imprisonment."
One of the dozen or so victims of the "Gezi protests" was Ethem Sarisuluk who, according to clear video footage, was shot down by a police officer. When the 26-year-old Sarisuluk was shot in the head, he was unarmed.
After a public outcry and further protests, the authorities agreed to bring the police officer to justice. At a recent hearing, the officer was given a 7.5-year sentence for unpremeditatedly killing a protester. The Sarisuluk family, disappointed, will appeal the verdict. But apparently losing a son to a police bullet was not the end of the family's misfortunes.
During one of the always tense hearings, Sarisuluk's parents and brothers shouted cries and curses and, according to the defendant, "threatened and injured him slightly during a brawl." The police officer filed a complaint at the prosecutor's office, and demanded the Sarisuluk family be brought to justice. The police officer filed that complaint before a verdict in his own case was announced. Recently, the Sarisuluks had to appear before a judge as defendants themselves.
A prosecutor is demanding up to 10 years and five months for them, for "insulting and premeditatedly injuring a police officer." Funny, the officer had not even gone through medical treatment after the courtroom brawl. If the judges agree with the prosecutor, the Sarisuluks will probably be the first people in the world to get a heavier prison sentence for "insult and minor injury" than the man who had killed their son. Insane? Not in Turkey.
In 2012, a video clip was leaked, showing half-a-dozen police officers beating a woman in the waiting room of a police station, and causing another public outcry. The video had been recorded by the station's own security cameras. Like every other similar case, it went to court. Finally, the court sentenced the officers to various jail terms ranging from six months to a couple of years. The woman, however, was sentenced to five years for "insulting and resisting police officers." But that was not the only "Turkish black humour." As more details of the case became public, Turks recently learned that the prosecutor had found yet another criminal.
That criminal was Kemal Goktas, a reporter for the daily newspaper Vatan. After the prosecutor demanded a heavier penalty for the victim than for her torturers, and his final indictment fell into the public domain, Goktas ran a story in his newspaper, and in his headline, described the prosecutor's final assessment as "scandalous." The prosecutor thinks that the headline was "an insult to a member of the judiciary," and has opened legal proceedings against the reporter. The prosecutor is asking for a prison sentence of up to three-and-a half-years.
But not all tales from Islamist-ruled Turkey are ridiculous and dark. Some are just ridiculous. Last week, a young peace activist staged a solo demonstration on Istanbul's busy Istiqlal Street. He was apparently aiming to "promote love and peace all around the world." As curious passers-by were watching him, he stood on one corner of the pedestrian street, put out a placard that read "Hug me – for love," blindfolded himself, stretched his arms for "hugs," and stood there for an hour or so.
The passers-by first watched him in suspicion. Then a few, giggling, hugged him. The psychological barrier had been broken. He was then "hugged" by hundreds of smiling people, of all ages and colours. His demonstration ended as it would end in Turkey. A couple of municipal policemen ordered him to stop "being hugged by people." Then they gave him a ticket. The hugs cost him 91 Turkish liras (nearly $40). His offence? Causing public disturbance.
It is not a coincidence that Turkey, where, in the Prime Minister's words, the pious Muslims are the main actor of the political system, ranks 154th in the prestigious Reporters Without Borders global press freedoms index. And it was not a coincidence that, despite too much political euphemism, the European Commission, in its annual progress report on Turkey, identified government interference in the judiciary and bans imposed on social media as major sources of concern regarding Turkey's candidacy for full membership.
"The adoption of legislation undermining the independence of the judiciary, massive reassignments and dismissal of judges and prosecutors and even detention of a high number of police officers, as well as blanket bans imposed on social media" are among the findings of the report.
Did President Obama read the EU's assessment of the "great Muslim democracy?"
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.