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Eyewitness in Turkey

Punishing the Innocent in the Name of Justice

What we* are witnessing in Silivri (near Istanbul) nowadays is simply a scar of shame on the forehead of humanity. Otherwise, philosophers, theorists, humanists, law makers, activists should work on finding new definitions for all the values we were taught in school, above all justice, because what is happening here is using the devices of law and justice to criminilize and punish the innocent, in the name of peace, justice and, of course, fighting terrorism.

Early in the morning of the first day of the trial, 2 July, hundreds of people gathered in Taksim Square, the main square of Istanbul, to catch buses to Silivri where the court is held, only to find that the police were waiting for them and preventing buses from going there. The police actually did this. However, some people were luckier and managed to go, taking private cars, taxis, and so on. We were among them. After driving for more than an hour we found ourselves in front of the police again, on some highway, in the middle of nowhere.

The court was held in the ‘The Camp of the Institution for Punishment Execution in Silivri’, a huge facility cut off from anythıng else in the middle of the countrysıde. The police had just built two long walls of barricade wire on both sides of the road, and placed checkpoints where dozens of people were negotiating with the guards to let them pass. So we had to leave the car and go on foot through the checkpoints and the wire-walled road. There were tens of police trucks, hundreds of military police, who are called ‘gendarme’ here, many of them with shields, helmets and sticks. My Turkish friends advised me not to open my camera, and to use the mobile camera if possible; preferably, not to use it at all. We made a plan on what to do in case of custudy, made sure that we had our passports and IDs, as we do not speak Turkish, and it would be difficult to convince a policeman that we do not mean any harm, just to attend the court, which was not allowed, as we were soon to learn.

We also discovered that arriving at the court was the easiest part of the story; entering and attending the trial was another. It wasn’t the case that anyone was allowed to enter; only those who have special permission. As a journalist, I managed to pass through the gate and security with the repeated efforts of my Turkish friends. But there literally hundreds of people who couldn’t. Many were gathering at the gate, with their hands raised, holding IDs, begging the police to let them in. It was immpossible for them to be heard or attended to. Others, especially elderly women, most probably mothers and wives of the detainees, were standing or sitting in rows outside holding sticks on top of which were sheets of paper with the names of their loved ones, who were behind the bars.

I am in Istanbul for a round table that is organized by the Bogaziçi University on the Arab Spring. When I learned about the trial I went to Silivri in solidarity and support of my friend, Ayşe Berktay, who was arrested in October 2011 and has been detained for the past nine months. I understand that her travels in connection with the World Tribunal of Iraq, which she helped to organise, and which had its culminating session in Istanbul in 2005, are cited as evidence against her in the indictment. Ironically, Turkey was one of few countries in the region which refused to participate in that invasion or allow its land and airspace to be used in the war. Ayşe worked hard for several years in organizing and participating in a series of tribunals on the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. I attended many of those tribunals to testify on the situation of İraq under the occupation. I met Ayşe there, I listened to what she had to say. There was absolutely nothing in what she said or did that could possibly endanger her country and people in any imaginable way. I want to say that to whoever is interested to know; the Court should be the first and most interested of them.

I knew Ayşe to be a very honourable, dignified and intelligent person. She was always the voice of reason and peace. Always against violence, and for justice and respect of human rights. Always calling for resolving problems through political dialogue and negotiation.

Inside the court, the detainees were sitting in some 13 rows, 15 detainees in each, in the middle of the court. Men and women of different ages, holding up their hands to show the V sign of victory. Most of them were wearing black in commemoration of comrades. I spotted Ayşe in the third row. On the right, there were long rows of dozens of lawyers, and on the left, the journalists. Towards the back there were many people, probably families, friends, organizations and unions. There were at least a hundred policemen surrounding the detainees, changing shifts every now and then.

The head of the court opened proceedings with a few words, then the defence lawyer, Meral Daniş Beştaş, gave a long speech which my Turkish friends said was very good. She made important points on using the Kurdish language so that the detainees could understand; on defining the nature of the court as political, not criminal, and thus constitutional; on the circumstances of the arrests (in which every one could be arrested); that the detainees should be released until sentences were passed; and, fınally, that the detainees are treated as criminals before a judgment was handed down.

What is not understandable is how some 200 people are put on trial and judged collectively. Logically, each one of them has his or her own case, which is different from the others. If Ayşe’s trips abroad were considered illegal activities, another person, for example, Buşra Ersanli, an intellectual and professor, was arrested after giving a lecture on women’s rights, and so on.

Many of the detainees were professors, writers, such as Hasan Ozguneş, who talked during the trial, intellectuals, publishers, journalists, and human rights activists. They are among the active members of society, people who dedicate their time and efforts to create a better world, a better country, Turkey in this case, and who should be thanked and cherished, not persecuted as criminals. Many of them are from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Thus, the court is highly political. Commentators here say that the court is an attempt to render the party illegal because it is accused of supporting terrorism. In our world of post-war terrorism, any activity could be criminalized as terrorism, although we do not know exactly what that term means. The lawyer, who is vice president of the BDP party, said that they are not trying to divide Turkey; rather, they want to build a multi-cultural state in Turkey, like many states in the world, and they don’t have any secret agenda against their country.

All the time during the trial, with what my friends managed to translate for me, from what I heard from people around, I found myself living in an Orwellian or Kafkaesque world where things are the opposite of how they look, and words contradict their own meaning. This is the Turkish version of the American Patriotic Act, the new McCarthyism. This is the age of war of terrorism.

Eman Ahmed Khammas
The author is an Iraqi journalist

*International Delegation in Solidarity with Ayşe Berktay


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