“Justice” in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L), and Fethullah Gülen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L), and Fethullah Gülen.

The oppressors change, oppression does not.

The U.S. and EU expressed concern about media freedom and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey.

Turkey changes, and it does not. The oppressors change; oppression does not.

Every Turkish courtroom sports in big, bold letters the proud dictum: “Justice is the foundation of the state.” Perhaps that explains why the Turkish state looks like a makeshift building without a proper foundation.

In Turkey, the ruling ideology has changed from one belief to another. The bête noire for the state also changed — in line with what the dominant ideology has crowned, or what is perceived as threat.

Between 1923, when Ataturk built modern Turkey, and 2002, when the (Islamist) Justice and Development Party [AKP] came to power, the usual suspects were the liberals, Islamists, non-Muslim minorities, communists, Kurds and random dissidents.

The state machinery often effectively used law enforcement authorities and the justice system to punish the “internal threats” to the state’s own survivability. Government bigwigs, judges and generals were largely the “untouchables.” In 2002, this author was given a 20-month suspended prison sentence for an article criticizing corruption in the judiciary (“Turkey’s ‘De Jure’ Untouchables,” Aug. 21, 2001, Turkish Daily News.) In 2005, the Court of Appeals approved the sentence.

The AKP’s rise to, and consolidation of, power reshuffled the usual suspects and the dominant ideology, but left random punishment unchanged. Only a month ago, a university professor of astronomy was put behind bars for not allowing female students to take his classes because they wore the Islamic headscarf. The legal case for the campus ban on the headscarf is complicated. There is still a valid ruling from the Constitutional Court that favors the ban; and a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that says the ban does not constitute a violation of rights. But there is also a parliamentary decision that legalizes the headscarf on campus. The professor of astronomy went to jail because he thought the supreme court’s decision overruled the bill that passed in parliament.


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