Two years ago this week Turkey woke up to the gravest graft probe in the history of the Republic of Turkey that involved members of government, their family members, top businessmen and public officials.
The evidence appeared to be quite strong, but the allegations were never brought before the court because the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government did everything possible to cover up the probe, arguing that there was no corruption and that it was a plot by Hizmet, the social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, to topple the government. Members of the judiciary and the police who conducted the probe were at once removed from their posts; some were arrested and dismissed from their profession.
The AKP government, in its all-out effort to cover up the probe, has since gone on to adopt administrative and legislative measures that reverse the reforms passed for fulfilling the European Union membership criteria. It has taken advantage of the cover-up efforts to dismantle the rule of law and to suppress the freedom of the press. In today's Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe and NATO, and a candidate negotiating membership in the EU, no one is secured a fair trial and access to sound information. The accession process to the EU has become a hoax.
The defendants in the cases against the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon military coup attempts, aimed at toppling the AKP government in its initial years in power, claimed they had done nothing wrong, that the evidence against them was fabricated by prosecutors and police affiliated with Hizmet plotting against the armed forces. The AKP government immediately took advantage of the same claim, arguing that the probe was nothing but a plot to overthrow the elected government. A political alliance between the government and its former pro-military opponents was soon formed, and legislation was passed to establish courts designed to not provide fair trials but to detain and convict government opponents. The prosecutors began filing cases to blame nearly all of the crime and murder committed in the country on the Hizmet movement.
The witch hunt led against Hizmet that violates the principle of individual responsibility, a basic principle of the rule of law, began with the concepts of fighting against “a parallel state” and “illegal structures in legal appearance” that have no place in criminal law, and eventually led to the designation of the Hizmet movement as “an armed terrorist organization.” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is under a constitutional oath to remain impartial, does not refrain from assuming full responsibility for the witch hunt conducted against Hizmet. He has recently gone as far as claiming that Hizmet has committed the crime of “betraying Tayyip Erdoğan.”
The graft probe that went public two years ago is certainly a milestone in Turkish history and marks the beginning of the end of the rule of law in the country. It is no longer possible to talk about a functioning democracy in Turkey. Can it be expected that corruption allegations will one day be brought before the court? On Jan. 6, the cases against some of the public prosecutors and security officials who conducted the graft probe and are now accused of plotting to overthrow the government will begin. The defendants may put before the court evidence that will shed light on the gravity of the corruption allegations. Leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu says they will never retreat from bringing before the court the grave allegations of corruption. This cannot, however, be expected to happen before the AKP's power comes to an end and the rule of law returns.
The most ironic, incredible and bitter aspect of what the country has witnessed in the last two years is this: While almost the entire world is mobilizing against the violent and atrocious interpretations of Islam represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the like, Turkey's government has declared war on Hizmet, a social movement that represents an understanding of Islam that is the exact opposite of ISIL's, one that condemns violence and calls for democracy, secularism as well as freedom of religion for all, and respect for diversity.
Published on Sunday's Zaman, 20 December 2015, Sunday