Rule of Law in Turkey Becomes Rule by Decree and Denunciation

After the failed coup attempt of July 15, Turkey increasingly looks like a dystopian state; suspects have already died in prison and most of the country’s independent media, including a Kurdish-language TV network for children, have been shut down.

The government’s initial response to the coup attempt was to declare a State of Emergency on July 20, which authorities said would help with the investigation. The government has accused a movement led by the religious cleric Fethullah Gülen to be behind the failed coup. However, many now voice concerns that the State of Emergency has turned into a witch-hunt against all critics of the country’s powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

More than 32,000 people have been arrested under State of Emergency according to government statistics. Over 70,000 people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation. According to data from the pro-government Sabah daily, 22,305 of those released were let go on probation, meaning they can’t travel abroad and they are required to check in with their local police station at regular intervals. More than 100,000 officials, including members of the judiciary, the police force and even school teachers, have been suspended or dismissed, and now there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to Turkey’s post-coup purge.

Most of the arrests allegedly take place in the absence of evidence against the suspects. For example, Mehmet Altan, a professor who was arrested for appearing on a television program affiliated with the Gülen movement, was told by a court that “he must have known about the coup given his level of education and social status” in the official ruling explaining the rationale for his arrest.

At least 74,000 passports have been cancelled under Cabinet Decrees, including those held by the family members of those suspected of involvement in the coup; now legal under Turkey’s State of Emergency rule. Some family suspects have also claimed that their families were held as hostages being told openly by police that they will be released if the real suspect surrenders.

126 journalists and writers are currently in prison; excluding those who are being kept in detention centers awaiting an arraignment to decide their fate. Under State of Emergency, the initial detention period before a suspect is released or charged was extended to 30 days from 48 hours. No contact with lawyers is allowed in the first five days of this period, raising concern about maltreatment and torture. There have been reports of people being kept up to 28 days in detention centers without being charged.

These concerns have already some sound basis: A teacher who was arrested in the coup probe was found dead in his cell; with authorities blaming the death on a heart attack. A prosecutor arrested in the coup probe was found to have killed himself, although his family says he would never end his own life as a devout Muslim. Allegations of maltreatment and torture are rampant, and head of the Prisons Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission Mehmet Metiner’s recent statement that “Military law is in place for the coup plotters; I will blow their heads off,” offers no indication that the rest of the world can rest assured about humane treatment of those under arrest.

State of Emergency powers are increasingly used to silence any opposition. State of Emergency regulations are used extensively outside the coup probe to persecute Kurds, leftists and Alevis; a religious minority in Turkey. In early October, the government shut down 24 television and radio stations that represented left-wing, Kurdish or Alevi segments. Many writers, including celebrated author Aslı Erdoğan, from the Kurdish press have been imprisoned since the start of State of Emergency rule.

Many websites have also been shut down under Turkey’s State of Emergency. Most recently, Turkish authorities blocked access to Google Drive and similar services where hundreds of thousands of people store their data, in response to a scandal in which the gmail account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Energy Minister and also President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, was hacked.

Anti-government protests are also not allowed. The government has issued a ban on any commemorative activity to be organized in the capitat to remember the victims of the Oct. 10, 2015 suicide bombing by the Islamic State that left 100 people dead on the first anniversary of the massacre. Twenty-nine protesters were detained in Bursa province on Oct. 9 in an event organized to commemorate the victims of that attack.

Dozens of teachers who belong to the left-wing union Eğitim-Sen have also been dismissed. Seven of them were put under arrest in early October on terror-related charges.

With the State of Emergency being prolonged for at least another three months and state officials adamantly stating that more arrests will be made in the following months, the darkest days for the opposition in the authoritarian country might yet still be ahead.

Evin Baris Altintas