Support Imprisoned Turkish Scholars

BY HANK REICHMAN

In November I posted to this blog the text of a letter from an imprisoned Turkish scholar, Dr. Sedat Laçiner,.  The following is the text of a blog post written by Dr. Laçiner, shortly before his imprisonment:

Opponent or Terrorist? Dramatically Changing Nature of Turkish Democracy

Sedat Laciner

In advanced democracies, the organizations and groups which were not involved in violence and gun are not called “terror organization”. According to the laws, everyone has a right to express their ideas and thoughts amicably, regardless how marginal their opinions are.

In authoritarian and oppressive regimes, almost all opponent groups are branded as ‘terror organization’. Authoritarian governments which cannot govern the country by democracy and law, use the law as a tool to suppress the opposition. For this purpose laws get changed; the terms of crime and terrorism get ambiguated as to include opponents and get more generalized.

Undoubtedly, to outlaw the groups which uphold their thoughts amicably and brand them as so-called ‘terrorists’ is unacceptable. It is a fact that this behavior shall hinder the development of the democracy and prevent the stability and development in the relevant country.

Second, to outlaw unarmed opposition and to sentence their members with unfair punishments shall feed ‘real’ terrorism. Members of the opponent groups who cannot express their thoughts legally, especially those who have radical opinions, shall pass to the armed organizations much easier. For those who cannot express their oppositions because all legal remedies are closed and who are helpless, the gun and the violence shall become the sole alternative.

TURKEY IS ON THE WRONG TRACK

In this context, one must say that also Turkey is making the similar mistakes. Erdogan government which is experiencing legitimacy problem for a couple of years, though the high vote rates succeeded in the elections, stepped back to the past habits in order to quell the Kurdish, left-winger and right-winger opponents: Like any leader who cannot govern the country with laws and democracy, also Erdogan is trying to quell the opposition through law.

In this accordance, first the term of “suspect” has been expanded in the laws. While a “strong suspect” was required in order to round up and arrest a person, this term has been replaced with “reasonable suspect”. Thus, prosecutors can bust any house without setting any concrete evidence forth, can keep them under surveillance for days and the person in question can be arrested without setting forth a serious evidence.

Another invention of Erdogan is “legal faced illegal structures”. In a normal state, if a person or an organization seems legal in a state of law, if everything is carried out in accordance with laws, you have to accept that it is legal. It is not possible to read people’s minds. However in new Turkey, the more legal you seem, the more illegal you may be. For example, the reason of confiscating the Ipek Media Group was their books of accounts were “perfect”. The court, by stating that none of the companies in actual life can have that perfect books of account, has taken a decision as “everything seems legal however this is impossible, for this reason, confiscate the company and to assign a trustee to the company”.

The term of ‘legal faced illegal structure’ is so ambiguous and useful for scaring and digesting the opponents, anybody can encounter this accusation easily.

The third term invented by President Erdogan is ‘unarmed-nonviolent terror organization’. According to this, a group does not need to refer to the gun and violence in order to be a terror organization. Erdogan says, “If a journalist or an academician uses his pen for dividing the country, using for the foreign powers, he is a terrorist too”.

ALL OPPONENTS INCREMENTALLY BECOME A TERRORIST

Within the scope of this framework, Kurdish, left-winger, Alawi, Gulen group and many other dissident groups were branded as terrorist and criminal. All pro-Kurdist groups in the Southeastern region for instance are considered PKK-members, in other words terrorists. Even tens of journalists working on the region are still kept in the prisons.

The attempts of Alawi and left-winger groups to start a new protest wave such as Gezi, is another fear. For this reason, many authors, academicians and ordinary citizens are being judged in the courts by the claim of decades of imprisonment sentence.

Implementations of Erdogan and AKP Government affect not only Kurdish and left-wing groups, but also right-winger and religious groups who show opposition. For example, more than 4.000 people, namely many doctors, businessmen, teachers, academicians and journalists who state that they have sympathy towards Gulen group, were put under custody, and beyond 1.000 of them are still imprisoned. This number increases each day. In these cases, none of the prisoners has used a gun or engaged in violence throughout their lives.

According to the 2016 official data, the number of the political prisoners and convicts in Turkey was reaching at 15.000. It is possible to get this number reach and even maybe exceed 20.000 until the end of this year. This number is as unthinkably high as for European countries. This is revealing how politics in Turkey changes day by day. According to some specialists, if Turkey continues this way, imprisonment of hundred thousands of people for political reasons is not unlikely.

In brief, Mr. Erdogan damaged the fledgling democracy of the country, because of his passion to govern the country on his own. The biggest fear of the Turkish Democrats, in the event of current progress continue, is having the country to experience unrepairable damages.

Sadly, the brutal assault on academic freedom in Turkey continues unabated.  On February 7, Turkish authorities issued a decree ordering the dismissal of 330 academic personnel from 49 universities, based on allegations that they were suspected of being involved in the July coup.  With Decree No. 686, authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 4,464 public officials and employees – including 330 academic personnel – who were identified as being affiliated with “organizations or groups that are determined to carry out activities against [the] state’s national security.” 115 of the dismissed academic personnel were reportedly signatories to the January 2016 Academics for Peace Petition, which called on the government to end its crackdowns targeting Kurdish rebels in the southeastern part of the country. The decree further provides that the dismissed academic personnel are subject to a lifetime ban from employment as civil servants; their passports will be canceled; and they will be stripped of the right to access public housing, while those living in public housing will be required to evacuate within 15 days.

The following letter was received by the AAUP from one imprisoned academic.  I have edited out some potentially identifying information to protect the writer and the writer’s family.

I’m one of the jailed academics and writers in Turkey. I’ve been in a Turkish prison (Canakkale) for more than 5 months without an indictment. More than 40 thousands of people, including academics, judges, lawyers, journalists, teachers and the members of Turkish Supreme Court were arrested after the 15 July Coup Attempt. All these jailed people are accused of supporting the coup-attempt. More than 100 thousands of civil servants were fired without any proof and legal process.

The so-called coup attempt has been abused by Erdoğan rule in order to curtail the authoritarian essence.

Similarly I was accused of supporting the so-called coup without any evidence and I was arrested on xx July 2016 in Canakkale. I cannot reach my lawyer and I have been under dreadful prison conditions.

The Turkish Attorney declared my file “secret” and refuses to give any details of the accusations as it is the case in thousands of files after 15 July 2016.

My only fault is my opinions. I opposed the Syrian and the Kurdish policies of the Erdogan rule. I’ve also strongly criticized the government’s authoritarian and Islamist policies. Turkey has always been part of Europe and it should be a true member of Europe. I’m afraid the government has making efforts to deviate Turkey’s western direction.

I’ve never been part of any illegal organization or network. I am a professor of International politics and an expert on combatting terrorism. I am author of 26 books and numerous articles.

I have no idea when I could see a judge. My life and my family are under deathly risks and we need your support. Please help us.

To learn what you can do to support our beleaguered Turkish colleagues, please go to https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/turkey-response/

And be sure to sign Scholars at Risk’s August 2 Letter of Appeal.

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