December 23, 2014

Investigations of Gülen are like barometer for coup d’etat

Bülent Korucu

It has become clear with the arrest warrant issued by a court for Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar, that he is the real target of the coup operation against the media.

The person in question is one who was previously acquitted after being tried for the umpteenth time based on the same accusation of establishing and leading a terrorist organization. Last time, back in 2008, the Criminal Council and the General Council of the Supreme Court of Appeals issued a verdict of acquittal for Gülen. It is something scandalous that a legal case has been brought against Gülen upon instructions.

In terms of the norms of universal law, the fact that the one who is instructing the judiciary is a civilian this time is not of importance.

Article 138 of the Constitution says: “No organ, authority, office or individual may give orders or instructions to courts or judges regarding the exercise of judicial power, send them circulars, make recommendations or suggestions.” That is, there is no difference in terms of the rule of law and democracy, between the briefings given to members of the judiciary by the military during the Feb. 28 postmodern coup of 1997 and the instructions given by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the judiciary.

James C. Harrington is an American lawyer. He has been practicing law for more than 40 years, and has been teaching at a university for 25 years. He is also a human rights activist. The points he drew attention to in his book titled “Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gülen” are being experienced again today. It is like we are in a world of deja vu; we are living through the same thing again and again.

In his book, Harrington said in a nice metaphor, “The judiciary is the spare tire of the military.” The judiciary is still a spare tire; it is just the boss that has changed. If we were to tell Harrington, who underlined earlier that Gülen was faced with legal charges on March 12, 1971 and Sept. 12, 1980 -- both dates represent military interventions, although in 1971 the military did not seize power, but just issued a memorandum – as well as during the Feb. 28 period, of the latest investigation, he would probably ask if a coup had happened again.

The coalition of the media, the judiciary and the junta was clearly visible at Gülen's trial during the Feb. 28 period, as was the case for the whole of the Feb. 28 process during which religiously observant individuals came under strong pressure. The driving force behind that coalition -- one that is present at all times -- is the groups that do not want to lose their undeserved privileges.

The same coalition is now at work. Professor Harrington drew attention to the timing of the lawsuits brought against Gülen in his book. It was significant that news reports about corruption in some pubic banks amounting to about $60-70 billion, which was an agenda item in those days, were published in the inner pages of print media rather than on the front page at the time.

At this point, I want to provide a long quotation from a previously published article of mine where I talked about Harrison's book. It is easy to see the parallels between the Feb. 28 process and today.

“It is difficult to talk about, in a technical sense, the legal trial process of the Gülen lawsuits. The law was openly violated at the stages of investigation, trial and even appeal. The prosecutor himself violated the confidentiality of the judicial process by giving the indictment to the press even before presenting it to the court.

“Yes, the lawsuits in which Gülen was tried were an attempt to psychologically defeat him and to set the stage for the public to condemn him as guilty. However, it was not possible at the time to convict him, as he was each time acquitted in the eyes of the public. When faced with charges based on secrecy and illegality, his response was to stick to transparency and legitimacy.

“It is possible to enumerate the general characteristics of the lawsuits brought against Gülen as follows: 1) He was faced with a legal process during the military coup periods of March 12, 1971, Sept. 12, 1980, and Feb. 28, 1997. 2) When no element of a crime was detected in his actions, those in power attempted to try him based on his intentions. 3) He was first presented by the media as guilty, then came the lawsuits. 4) When it was not possible to convict him, as there was no “element of a crime” in his acts, the judiciary did not want to grant him an acquittal. Those in power wanted him to remain a suspect.

“Gülen got rid of these attempts with, so to speak, counter attacks, in which he presented himself before the court to be tried. This was the attitude that people who are sure of themselves and their innocence would adopt.”

Coming back to the present day, the criminal courts of peace -- courts which are no doubt against the law -- render strange verdicts. It has accepted a claim that some people who are currently being tried in another court have been victimized as true. This is not only disrespectful of the judges who are hearing the ongoing case in another court, but even worse, is a legal scandal.

Gülen's situation is a case that should take its place in the legal literature of the world. It is a shame on the part of our judiciary to seek to try him again despite the fact that he has already been tried many times based on the same charges.

Given that the Criminal Council and the General Council of the Supreme Court of Appeals approved a verdict of acquittal for Gülen in 2008, launching an investigation for the same reason is a black stain on the history of justice.

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 December 2014, Tuesday