ECtHR must understand that Turkey’s Gülen trials are vindictive, jurist says

Human rights lawyer Lale Demirkaya

Turkish human rights lawyer Lale Demirkaya has said in an interview that the trials of alleged Gülen movement members in Turkey are vindictive and that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) should be made aware of this, the Kronos news website reported.

Speaking to Kronos, Demirkaya said the Gülen trials are conducted as revenge for the Ergenekon trials, a series of investigations launched in 2008 into an alleged network of ultranationalist coup plotters within the military.

“That is where all the lawlessness is coming from,” Demirkaya said. “This should be made clear to the ECtHR, and it’s up to us to do that.”

The Ergenekon case was later blamed on alleged Gülen followers within the police and the judiciary and was ultimately dropped as a conspiracy by the movement, a view that was adopted by the Turkish government after a 2013 corruption probe that implicated several high-ranking government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time.

Inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, the movement increasingly came under pressure by Erdoğan’s government, which designated it as a terrorist organization and accused it of masterminding an abortive putsch in 2016. Gülen and the movement strongly deny any involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The post-coup purges against the group included the summary dismissal of more than 100,000 civil servants, the mass detention of tens of thousands of people over alleged affiliation as well as the shutdown by executive decree-laws of dozens of media outlets, associations, foundations, labor unions and financial institutions.

A former lawyer for the defendants in the Ergenekon trials, Demirkaya now represents officers and cadets purged from the military in the aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup. In 2018 she herself was accused of Gülen movement membership and spent four months in pretrial detention.

She recently came to prominence with her remarks during a conference in İstanbul where she revealed that one of her clients who was a defendant in the Ergenekon trials had told her in late 2013 that they had “made a deal” with Erdoğan to secure the release of all the defendants and subsequently profile alleged Gülen followers.

“It was clear that the purge lists were previously made,” Demirkaya said in the interview with Kronos. “You may have heard that even some people who had died before the coup were on the dismissal lists afterward.

“A military officer seems to have been dismissed as a lieutenant, whereas he was actually a captain at the time of his dismissal.

“I do think that some of the evidence in the Ergenekon trials was fabricated,” she said while rejecting the claim that the whole case was a conspiracy. “For six years, the court was unable to obtain the original of a CD which I think did not exist at all.

“Yet, I believe that today’s ‘FETÖ’ cases are revenge trials. They themselves have revealed their intention to do so.”

FETÖ is a derogatory term coined by the Turkish government after the 2013 graft probe to refer to the Gülen movement.

The mistreatment of the movement’s members in the post-coup period has been addressed in dozens of reports published by international organizations, such as a 2020 opinion released by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which said the mass detention campaign conducted against the group could potentially amount to crimes against humanity.

The Turkey Tribunal, a symbolic people’s tribunal organized in 2021 by a Belgian law firm in Geneva that brought together former high court judges and prominent legal experts from around the world, also concluded that the acts of torture and enforced disappearances targeting the group could amount to crimes against humanity.

While the ECtHR has been accused of being too slow and ineffective in fulfilling its mandate in the face of Turkey’s human rights crisis, the Strasbourg court has in recent years delivered several major judgments concerning alleged members of the Gülen movement, including a landmark decision in September 2023 that faulted Ankara over the conviction of a teacher on terrorism charges on account of his mobile communications and banking transactions.

Turkey’s post-coup purges also included the mass removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors immediately after the failed coup which, according to many international observers, had a chilling effect on the legal professionals who continued to work in the judiciary.

Erdoğan’s government has also been accused of replacing the purged judiciary members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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