November 19, 2015

Rule of law and revenge

Bülent Keneş

States guided by rule of law have certain fundamental characteristics that can largely differentiate them from primitive tribal states and despotic dictatorships.

These characteristics primarily include an independent and impartial judiciary and equality before the law. If people who have somehow come to power start to use the state authority to take personal revenge, then we cannot describe that state as having rule of law. If those people have taken the judiciary under their absolute control by dismissing or reshuffling the few judges who happen to stick to universal legal rules and conscientious convictions and by announcing beforehand the establishment of “special project” courts and prosecution offices, then that country can be described as anything but a state governed by the rule of law.

In a democratic state based on the rule of law, anyone who is supposed to serve the nation has well-defined rights, authorities, responsibilities and limits. No one can perform unlawful or illegitimate acts that consistently overstep these clear-cut limits and constitutional boundaries. No one in a system that is still a parliamentary one under the constitution can act at will as if an executive presidential system had been introduced. No one can commit constitutional crimes with every step he takes, with complete disregard for the system of a separation of powers and checks and balances mechanisms, which are sine qua non properties of democracies.

No one can refrain from abiding by democratic laws, universal fundamental rights and freedoms, legal rules and democratic conventions with a civilian coup on democratic rule of law. No one can use the state power as a tool for unlawfulness, arbitrariness, personal hatred and revenge, or adopt a hostile attitude toward various segments of the society. No one can dare destroy anyone who doesn't think like him by unlawful means. This is because it is a crime to act in this way in a democratic state governed by the rule of law and the position of anyone who commits such a crime cannot be considered as a mitigating circumstance. Moreover, a country where such crimes are consistently committed cannot be described as a democratic state governed by the rule of law.

Speaking to a pro-government TV channel on Wednesday evening, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uttered remarks characterized with extreme hatred and revenge, and these remarks certainly fall into this category. Despite the fact that all his unfounded allegations against the Hizmet movement -- against which a “witch-hunt” has long been waged with baseless charges and inconsistent slanders despite its members being perfectly innocent -- have already become the subject matter of certain judicial processes, a president cannot say, "We are planning certain steps that will give them a very different future." If he uses such language, then we are perfectly entitled to ask, "Excuse me, but are you a prosecutor or a judge?" We may also ask: "If you are not a prosecutor or judge, are you the boss of the ‘special project' prosecutors and judges? Where do you get the power to boss the judiciary?"

In a country that claims to be a democratic state governed by the rule of law and which has a written constitution, a president cannot make a public appearance on TV to refer to a civil society movement -- which numerous judicial investigations have failed to incriminate despite two years of an arbitrary witch-hunt -- and say: "Personally, they know me well and I know them very well. They betrayed Erdoğan; I don't betray them. I'm just working to take back the nation's due from them. I have reiterated that I will keep on doing so even if I stay alone." If he says such things, no one can refer to that country as a democratic state based on the rule of law or to that president as a democratic and civilized president.

A mentality that has lost such control as to say "Witch-hunt or not, we'll do it" and which has completely lost any sense of law, especially for the last two years, cannot be allowed to use the state authority for personal revenge in a civilized country. A regime where this is allowed cannot be described as a democracy or having the rule of law. Such a regime deserves to be called a one-man dictatorship, and unfortunately, this has exactly been the case for a long time in Turkey.

The judiciary, which is supposed to be independent and impartial and administer justice equally for everyone, is being stripped of its essential quality so that it can be used by Erdoğan to satisfy his personal grudge and revenge. The police are being transformed into a militia. The recklessness with which state officials say "Do as you are told; we will pass a bill to make it no longer a crime" is becoming more and more common. Firms that are supposed to be free enterprises are being arbitrarily taken over or unlawfully forced to shut down. The supposed inviolability of property is violated with a frenzy that wouldn't be out of place in prehistoric times. People are deprived of legal protection and life security.

Intellectuals and journalists are physically beaten in the streets by pro-Erdoğan thugs for their critical views. Ravenous crowds thunder into newspaper buildings and can escape any criminal investigation. Offenders are protected and go unpunished. Freethinking journalists are dismissed from their jobs. Moreover, dozens of lawsuits are launched against them. Furthermore, they are detained and sent to jail. Their TV channels and newspapers are unlawfully and arbitrarily taken over. Critical TV networks are dropped on a whim from the only available state-owned satellite platform. A total of 14 TV channels are blacked out.

Turkey's largest publishing company is arbitrarily taken over despite numerous investigations launched during the past one-and-a-half years having produced no incriminating evidence. The trustee assigned to that company rushes to order the termination of publishing and sales activities. Towns and cities are blockaded for weeks and their connection to the external world is severed. Civilians are persecuted due to the heavy gunfire in the towns and cities where tens of thousands of people live through a so-called fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which until recent months had been allowed to act freely.

The educators and philanthropists whose sole intention is to contribute to the building of a peaceful, prosperous world by providing everyone with quality education without any discrimination and against whom no criminal charge has been raised are being pressured with ridiculous allegations, including "terrorist organization" or "parallel state structure." They are arbitrarily detained at night. They're being pushed around. They are handcuffed. They are arrested by invented courts. They are being kept in jail for years without trial.

In the full glare of publicity, the whole state is being turned into a mere tool for a man who lost control when his close friends were caught red-handed and who is now determined to take revenge. A pitch-dark totalitarian fascism is prowling around the country due to a tremendously oppressive machine consisting of the party, supporters and state organs that are aligned with the feelings of retribution provoked by this guy. Worse still, as this immoral and unprincipled fascism becomes more and more prevalent, people are losing their minds, fairness and consciences at a faster rate.

Bigotry and vandalism start to haunt the masses. The hate and anger meticulously spared al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and similar radical terrorist organizations is poured down on the education-centric and humanitarian Hizmet movement as well as on the innocent victims of radical organizations. Then everyone is shocked to see thousands of football fans protest the victims of the Paris attack instead of condemning ISIL and wonder why.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 November 2015, Thursday