Day after day, anything related to the concept of justice in Turkey resembles a bitter parody of Franz Kafka’s works of literature.
The domain of the judiciary has turned into a battlefield for partisanship and clashing political interests in which various flanks of Turkey’s far-right, extreme nationalist and Islamist groups elbow each other to gain influence.
It is apparent that the power struggle in the defunct system of justice is a symbol for a showdown between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the militarist right.
The opposition is only a pawn in this cruel game. While the oppressive measures against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on central and local levels become unbearable, Turkey’s lonely and alienated dissidents and journalists bear the brunt of what they regard as acts of revenge for their standing up against the injustice.
The case of Ahmet Altan, former editor-in-chief of the shutdown liberal daily Taraf, is telling of the agony. He was sentenced to aggravated lifetime imprisonment for spreading “subliminal messages” supporting the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey and, when his sentence was recently reduced to 10 years, he was released — but only for five days.
A court agreed with the prosecutor that he must be sent back to prison and he was put back in his cell. During his brief period of freedom, he filed a powerful article to Le Monde.
“In the few days I’ve spent ‘outside’ the prison, the things I’ve heard and watched gave me the feeling that life might only comprise a prison and a madhouse,” he wrote. “It is as if a strange ideology one might call ‘lumpenism’ has, in various guises, taken hold of the ‘outside.’
“A lowly case of madness has penetrated the texture of society. The intellectual hierarchy of society has been turned upside down and those with the poorest acumen and skills have gained the right to speak the most. Intelligence, skills, knowledge and creativity are demeaned.
“One of the most horrifying questions of humankind determines everyone’s place in society: How much do you like your homeland? Everyone loves their homeland; they love it like crazy, love it to death and, in order to prove it, they keep shouting out how much they love their homeland.
“Political authority has the final say on who loves their homeland more. In this terrifying competition, there is no place for those who have not lost all wisdom and reason. Any reasonable objection, any belief in law and human rights will suffice to leave you out of the race… Lumpens have planted their flags everywhere.”
The pattern was repeated when journalists of the secular daily Cumhuriyet had a lower court defy the overturn of their lengthy prison sentences by the High Court of Appeals. The case will continue to agonise them because it means the process will begin from scratch.
These examples help understand how acrimonious the internal battle in the power echelons in Turkey has become. As a part of bureaucracy tries to prevent things from getting out of hand completely, the other part pushes for crossing all the lines in order to establish a full-scale police state.
If the cases of Altan and Cumhuriyet are not clear enough to see through the patterns, a look into the series of devastating measures employed against the HDP — with 62 seats, the third largest party in the Turkish parliament — would leave one with no doubts.
On the central level, there are more than 100 subpoenas against its deputies, all on terrorism charges. It is a question of Erdogan’s tactical timing before their immunities are lifted, paving the way for prison.
Of the 69 municipalities won by the HDP, 27 have been imposed with state trustees appointed by Erdogan. Thirteen HDP mayors are in pretrial detention, along with tens of municipal council members. They are added to the 41 former mayors of the HDP who were removed from their posts before the elections in March and sentenced to a total of about 237 years in prison.
There is another pattern: Erdogan is determined to break the backbone of the HDP’s rather solid structures and continue to conduct, to the very end, what could be defined as “ethnic cleansing in Turkish politics.” The aim is to copy-paste the Sri Lanka experience, which crushed the Tamil movement.
The despair is so deep among Turkey’s Kurdish politicians that an extraordinary meeting took place in Ankara with the question on whether the party should withdraw from parliament and local councils. After stormy debate, the decision was to continue but the HDP knows that, under such dire circumstances, it would only serve the purpose of a postponement, an act of winning some time.
Turkey continues to breathe under the state of emergency, however de facto it seems to be. Realism is useful: it will have to be much worse, before the tide eventually turns.