October 16, 2014

The government is preparing for a huge witch hunt

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

When it came to human rights reforms, this government used to take steps like an Ottoman military band (Mehteran). An Ottoman military band, as a part of its ceremonial duty, takes two steps forward and then takes one step back. On the whole, they of course go forward, but quite slowly.

This government's human rights reforms used to be like that. They recognized human rights in slow motion, then they took a step back; but until one or two years ago there had always been progress.

In the last couple of years though, there have been no significant reforms, and they have even started to walk backwards.

If you follow Turkey closely, you are aware of this, I guess...

However, there is now a new legislation package the government wants to pass in Parliament, and it will spell disaster on many different levels. The package promises a new kind of Ottoman military band march. Apparently, the government, from now on, will take two steps backwards each time and never take a step forward at all.

This new legislation represents a return to the old days in Turkey, the post-military-coup eras.

The legislation includes severe restrictions and draconian measures, from limiting the right to defense to the property rights of a defendant.

Obviously the government is preparing to launch a huge witch hunt across the country.

Under this legislation, defense lawyers will be barred from taking a copy's of files in a criminal court case, at the request of the prosecutor. If you take into account the fact that there is considerable time Turkey between the commencement of a case and the introduction of the indictment before the court, sometimes a few years, a defendant may stay in prison for the same amount of time without knowing the charges being brought against him.

To issue a search warrant, a judge will no longer need “concrete evidence,” as is stated in the current law, but instead only “reasonable suspicion” will be enough. If you remember that prosecutors and judges appointed by the government launched a case against fans of the Beşiktaş football club accusing them of coup-plotting -- simply because they attended the Gezi protests -- and the fact that a number of police officers who conducted a corruption investigation implicating former government ministers are now in prison under accusations of attempting to carry out a coup, you can guess what this “reasonable doubt” would mean in practice.

A penal judge of peace -- of which there are a few in each city, all recently appointed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- would be able to issue wiretapping orders that could be implemented anywhere in the country. Practically speaking, this would make very easy for the police and the government to listen to anyone they desire by obtaining an order from any penal judge of peace anywhere in the country.

There is a horrifying element in this new legislation pertaining to the seizure of properties and material assets belonging to a defendant, at any stage of a trial. This new legislation broadens the catalog of crimes under which a judge can decide to seize the material assets of the accused, and they include “crimes against the government.”

Obviously, those who drafted the legislation have a strong desire to seize the properties of members of the Gülen movement, with whom they have been at war for a long time. Consider this part of the legislation together with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's promise to bring the issue of the “parallel structure”/Gülen movement to the attention of the National Security Council (MGK). In his promise, this “threat” would be added to the “red book” of the council, which is practically a black list of enemies of the Turkish state. We can reasonably conclude that the government is preparing to launch a huge battle against the movement on an economic front.

There are many other disconcerting provisions in this package, but I have to finish this piece here.

The conclusion is this: This government, on the one hand, is making it impossible to bring cases against its members, no matter the accusation or allegation. On the other hand, it is trying to prepare fertile ground to wage a huge war against the Gülen movement in particular and against any dissident in general. They are preparing for a huge with hunt.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 October 2014, Thursday