February 28, 2016

Feb. 28 victims accused of applying worse forms of oppression today

İbrahim Asalıoğlu

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which sprang from a political movement that was the target of a military coup in 1997 that had introduced widespread restrictions on the lives of pious people, is now being accused of following harsher and more repressive policies against its own critics.

On Sunday, Turkey marked the 19th anniversary of a what has become known as the "postmodern military coup" as the country's secularist military forced a coalition government led by the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP) to resign on the grounds that there was reactionarysm or religious fundamentalism was increasing in the country.

Not only were fatal blows dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms after the coup, but democracy and the rule of law were also suspended during the Feb. 28 process. Instigators of the coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf.

A controversial group known as the West Study Group (BÇG) that was established within the military, directed the Feb. 28 process and categorized politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats according to their religious and ideological backgrounds. Many individuals in the military and many public employees lost their jobs on the grounds that they were involved in reactionarysm.

At the time of the Feb. 28 coup, current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was among the founders of the AK Party in 2001 and served as the party's leader until his election to the presidency in August 2014, was the mayor of İstanbul representing the RP. He was among a group of politicians serving at the time who felt the worst of the coup makers' methods. In 1999, he was sent to jail for four months after being convicted of inciting public hatred and enmity in a poem he read in Siirt province in late 1997.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Mehmet Bekaroğlu, who closely witnessed the Feb. 28 process in his role as deputy chairman of the Felicity Party (SP), which was a successor of the RP, said the AK Party has been engaged in practices far worse than those implemented during the Feb. 28 post-modern coup era.

“They have gone beyond the system of Feb. 28. They are unfortunately applying the Feb. 28 practices by making them more efficient, widespread and sophisticated,” Bekaroğlu said.

Saying that the military's tutelage during the Feb. 28 period was targeting anyone who did not share its views via the judiciary that was then completely under its influence, Bekaroğlu said the AK Party -- which came to power in 2002 with talk of being persecuted by the military during the Feb. 28 coup era -- is now implementing the same methods.

“They [the military] impaired political and administrative functions by using the judiciary as an instrument and they persecuted, dismissed many people from their jobs and positions. It was the feature of Feb. 28. The same methods are also being used now. The same instructed judiciary and special courts are being used. Only the names are changing, but the method is the same,” Bekaroğlu said.

The penal courts of peace -- also known as “project courts” -- were established through an omnibus law introduced by the AK Party government, being passed in Parliament in late June 2014. Penal judges of peace, popularly known as super judges, serve in those courts. The role of these judges has been criticized for the broad powers they exert over investigations and other courts' rulings.

The faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by the ideas of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, is apparently the leading group in a society that is the crosshairs of the AK Party's crackdown on its critics.

The AK Party and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan launched an all-out war against the movement following the publication of details of a corruption probe in late 2013 in which members of Erdoğan's close circle were implicated. Despite a firm denial from the movement and a complete lack of tangible evidence, the government accuses the movement of masterminding the corruption investigation to topple the government.

Since then, many people, organizations and businesses that the government believes have links to the movement, have been subjected to politically motivated operations. As a result of these, many people have been sent to jail, and many businesses and organizations have been forcibly closed.

Last November, the AK Party government, which has railed against the headscarf ban imposed by the Feb. 28 regime for years, came under fire and were accused of being hypocritical when non-resistant, headscarved detainees were handcuffed in Manisa province as part of an operation targeting the Gülen movement.

The handcuffed images of the suspects, in particular those of headscarved women, sparked a public outcry, mainly because police procedures require that handcuffs be placed on suspects only when he or she might flee or pose a physical threat to the safety of the police.

In addition, despite the fact that Erdoğan himself was jailed for reading a poem, which would be considered as part of freedom of speech in a functioning democracy, today many people in the country including journalists, academics and even teenagers are prosecuted over charges of insulting the president or a government official for their critical statements. Even the simplest form of criticism is taken as an insult while international watchdogs have often warned Turkey over the diminishing freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the country as well as a lack of tolerance for dissent.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 28 February 2016, Sunday