The authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s open contempt for the rule of law has plunged Turkey into an abject lawlessness whereby innocent people were jailed on absurd charges from possessing a dollar bill, cancelling cable TV subscription to purchasing the largest circulated daily and being a member of the union, a new 42-page study by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed.
Millions of people in Turkey are deemed suspects by the government that abuse the criminal justice system to fabricate charges and lock up the law-abiding citizens just because they were involved with businesses, NGOs and unions that were considered to be critical of Erdogan regime.
According to the government’s own admission, 50,510 people were arrested and 169,013 have been faced legal actions, most in the form of detention. More than 150,000 judges, teachers, doctors, police, academics and other civil servants were fired summarily and branded as terrorists by government’s law-decrees, otherwise known as Erdogan’s royal decrees in the last year alone.
“If you look at the purported criminal evidence cited by prosecutors and courts for jailing tens of thousands of people under terrorism and coup charges, Erdoğan government can easily label millions of people in Turkey as terrorists and putschists,” Abdullah Bozkurt, SCF President said.
“Turkish government inventing new crimes that have no basis in the penal code and clearly against the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Turkey is a party,”’ he added.
The witch-hunt persecution has taken its big toll on participants and volunteers of the civic group Gülen movement, inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen who has been an outspoken critic of President Erdoğan on corruption in the government and Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting to armed Jihadist groups in Syria. Kurdish political movement and leftist groups have also taken their share of persecution under Erdoğan regime as well.
In this study, SCF have reviewed tens of thousands of pages of court documents, indictments, depositions and arrests warrants to identify the absurd pretexts used by prosecutors to indict suspects and judges to jail innocent people who are alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement.
The most notable ones that stand out from the rest include the following. The list is certainly not an exhaustive one but tells the tale of terrible state of the rule of law in Turkey.
- Subscription to Zaman daily: The newspaper sold as many as 1.2 million copies at its peak, especially right after the corruption scandals that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates.
- Being a client of Bank Asya: One of three leading banks in Turkey with the highest liquidity in Turkey. It was seized by the government on false charges. It had 1,5 million clients.
- Union membership: The Aksiyon-İş Union, a confederation of unions representing labor in various sectors, was targeted by government because of its opposition stand. It had 22,104 members.
- Membership in business association TUSKON: The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, best known by its acronym TUSKON, was the umbrella organization for 211 businessmen’s associations in Turkey and 150 others in several countries. It had more than 40,000 members.
- Volunteering for the Kimse Yok Mu charity: A charity organization that was a member of UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and partner to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been listed as terrorist organization by government over its links to the Gülen movement. It had over 200,000 volunteers in 2015.
- Doctors and medical professionals: Tens of thousands of doctors, medical staff and professional health workers in Turkey and those who were employed by hospitals, health centers and medical schools and members of health professional associations affiliated with the Gülen movement were branded by the government as ‘terrorists’.
- Lawyers associations: Thirty-four lawyers’ societies or associations have been arbitrarily shut down in the last year alone. Their members were treated as suspects. 523 lawyers including the heads of provincial bar associations were arrested and 1,318 lawyers have been prosecuted since 2016.
- Possession of the books of Fethullah Gülen: Publishing houses that printed and distributed Gülen’s books were shut down, copies were collected and destroyed. Anybody who has a copy of one of 64 books authored by Gülen is being treated as suspect in Turkey. Some books of Gülen sold as many as one million copies.
- Cancellation of Digiturk subscriptions: Digiturk, a cable TV, unlawfully removed critical TV networks from its lineup under government pressure and many people cancelled their subscription in protest. 168,000 people reportedly cancelled their memberships after the main opposition political party CHP joined the protest. Court documents show the cancellation was accepted as membership to a terrorist organization.
- Possession of one-dollar bills: Turkish investigators claimed possession of one dollar bill and the serial number on the note is a mode of secret communication among members of the movement. This far-fetched claim led many people with a dollar note to languish in Turkish jails including a US national who works at NASA. The US Federal Reserve reported $11.7 billion in one-dollar bills in all letter series in circulation as of 2016 and plans to issue $2.4 billion in 2017.
- ByLock messaging application: Using and/or downloading a smart-phone application called ByLock which was available freely in Google Play and AppStore is considered to be a criminal evidence by Turkey. Very little, if any, content was produced so far yet anybody who alleged to have downloaded it is regarded as suspect. The app was downloaded a million times and reportedly had 215,000 users.
- Being a relative of suspect: One of the most outrageous illegal practices carried out in Turkey has manifested itself in the form of violation of the principle of individual criminal responsibility. The government started arresting family members and relatives of suspects without any evidence other than blood and marriage links.