On the one hand, we have the amnesty discussions, and on the other, we have suspicious deaths being reported on television.
While discussing who to include in or exclude from the amnesty, a young and successful doctor passed away in the dark, resentfully. This doctor’s name was İbrahim Halil Özyavuz, and he was imprisoned because he allegedly used the smart phone application Bylock. He was tortured to death in Silivri Prison, and they made it look like a suicide.
Immediately afterwards, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of mass communication applications as such cannot on their own be accepted as evidence of criminal behavior.
But an innocent and clean soul had already passed away in prison…
Just like the mothers and their children who drowned in the Evros River while trying to flee the horror of mass punishment in the country.
Just like the tens of thousands of innocents waiting in prison for justice.
They are the innocent “criminals.”
They are the nameless victims of an insane era.
They are just like “Aslı and Fahrettin,” who did not have any identity cards on them, but were identified by the names written inside their rings….
And finally, the happy faces of the young, which remain in their last pictures.
They are tens of thousands of women, men, elderly people, and children who are on trial with empty bills of indictments, without the presence of a single tangible accusation.
They are being tried as “armed terrorists” because of the newspaper they read, the school they sent their children to, the bank account they deposited funds into, the charity they donated to, the union they were members of, the private teaching institutions they taught at, the hospital they gave birth at, or the communication applications they downloaded.
It is worth mentioning that the newspaper in question was the bestseller in Turkey; the chiefs of the ruling AKP―first and foremost the President―raced to cut the anniversary cake for the newspaper.
It is worth mentioning that these schools were the most successful ones, and among the school’s alumni, you can count the son-in-law of President Erdoğan and the current Secretary of State for Energy, Berat Albayrak, as well as many other children of AKP politicians.
It is worth mentioning that the charity foundation in question, called “Kimse Yok mu?” (Is Anybody There?), hosted Erdoğan as one of the foundation’s main promoters, and it was deemed a beneficial foundation which is tax-exempt thanks to the decree of the Council of Ministers. Hundreds of AKP members participated as volunteers for this foundation.
It is worth mentioning that the unions in question are completely legal and were created with the permission of the AKP government.
Another important point is that the bank in question was opened personally by President Erdoğan, former President Abdullah Gül, then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, and some other chief members of the AKP.
And finally, among the downloaders of the smartphone application in question, called Bylock, are ministers and MPs from the AKP.
It is possible to extend the list.
To show you the level of the abdication of reason, I would give you a small example. One of the accusations against the imprisoned journalist Cumali Çaygeç is that he stayed in the Bank Asya Thermal Hotel in Ankara for a couple of days. The party in power, AKP, hosted consultation camps in this hotel, gathering all of the ministers, MPs, and their organizations twice a year, for 11 years―until they started the witch-hunt process back in 2013, after the corruption investigations. But today, they are the accusers, and Cumali Çaygeç is charged with being a “member of a terrorist organization.”
This collective production of crime and punishment is not something new for humanity. We’ve seen and witnessed this throughout dictatorships in the past.
They also filled prisons and graves with “criminals without a crime.”
The concept made its debut in Soviet Russia. The Bolshevik jargon included a term called “objective enemies.” They were the so-called enemies counted as “criminals” because of their mere presence, without the necessity of committing any crime.
I’d like to remind you of the words which were cited in Hannah Arendt’s book Totalitarianism: “I do not want to be a criminal without a crime.”
The author of this sentence during The Great Purge of 1936 was a victim who was denounced as a “class-alien element” by the regime. But the modus operandi of an era and a regime spilled through the lips of this person.
The infamous words of Lavrenty Beria, Stalin’s chief of police, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime,” form the title of this era. Beria’s method was to take the targeted person into custody and then fill in the blanks to produce the crime.
Another important figure and a chief of secret police from this era, Martin Ivanovich Latsis, stated, “Do not look for any evidence for the people who act suspiciously or say things against the Soviet offices. The first question you must ask is the class, and the social group they belong to, their education, and their profession. These questions will decide their fate”.
It is just like when Saddam Hussein said, “I know a traitor before he knows himself.”
Through these periods, there is no real “crime” or “criminals.” There are only targeted individuals and groups. The evidence is fabricated. This is a period of a great purge.
When he started the period, Stalin said, “We are going to exterminate every type of enemies of the state, and the people of the USSR. We are also going to exterminate their families and their breeds!”
Therefore, simply being a relative or a family member of a suspect was enough for anybody to be labeled as a “counterrevolutionary.” Wives, ex-wives, children, siblings, and parents could be punished as “enemies of the state,” “counterrevolutionaries,” or “traitors.” Moreover, being from the same ethnic background or group, or even being a neighbor was occasionally enough reason to be accused.
So it is in Turkey today.
Although there is no criminal evidence against the people who have been accused, their wives, siblings, children, and relatives are being arrested too.
Such a process is not possible without a series of reports to the authorities. This is an era of a reciprocal nourishment where the dictator becomes one with his “people,” and when you cannot distinguish who the real “Stalin” is.
There is no crime, nor criminals. There are only the ones who are on the list, or not.
There are only the ones who are labeled before and whose names are included, or not included in the arrest list.
The rest is all about fabricating a crime.
When nothing is found, as what happened in the trial of Prof. Dr. Sedat Laçiner, a ruling stating “to confirm if the accused had conversations or not with the people who use Bylock, by checking all the phone conversations he made between 2010-2016” is possible. So, even if he did not download Bylock to his own phone, the mere fact that he spoke with people who downloaded Bylock to their phones in the past six years is accepted as evidence of a crime. There are dozens of journalists, hundreds of civil servants, businessmen, teachers, students, housewives―thousands in total―being judged in this way.
Even if the same action was done by others who have not been accused, it does not change the result. If the names of these other people are not on the purge list, meaning if the “social group they belong to” is different as Martin Latsis stated, then there is nothing for them to worry about. Faith is determined by belonging in Turkey.
For instance, we saw this during the first hours of the coup attempt on 15 July. Thousands of members of the judiciary were suspended and the frenzy of arrests started even before sunrise. Mehmet Yılmaz, the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, confirmed this when he stated, “After the night of the 15th, at 1:00am in the morning of the 16th, we suspended 2,749 members of the judiciary.”
We witnessed the same process for many different professions.
A letter written by the former Rector of Çanakkale 18 Mart University and columnist, Sedat Laçiner, during his imprisonment to journalist Hasan Cemal is a good example. Laçiner, who was detained on charges of “violating the constitution” and “making a coup,” stated the following in his letter: “But the prosecutor did not even ask a single question about the coup. Since he did not ask, I explained where I was and what I was doing on the 15th of July. But the prosecutor seemed like he was not listening to me. What was more interesting is that the judge also, just like the prosecutor, did not ask a single question regarding the 15th of July neither to me, nor to the other defendants. It was like the verdicts were already in, and we were already hanged.”
Laçiner, whose bill of indictment was written eight months after he was detained, continues: “Above all else, the most tragicomic thing was when they wrote “no force, or violence was observed in his actions, but it is in favor of the community to keep him imprisoned.” Where is the logic in that? Where is the law here? They have been searching for evidence for months, and they still do, but they cannot find anything. I am a detainee every single time with the reason of “the evidences are not fully collected yet.” Actually these words are an acknowledgment of my innocence. They are still searching for evidence to prove me guilty, or they are still punishing me, and I am detained without a proper judgment for years. This is called extrajudicial execution.”
Mustafa Ünal, another imprisoned journalist, once stated in his defense, “A Russian proverb says, “When a bear wants to eat its cub, first it covers it with mud.” People might see us covered in mud. But this is only the work of continuous and loud propaganda.” These are the innocent people, who were first covered in mud, and then were eaten personally by their mother, namely their government.
This witch-hunt which started in 2013, was ratcheted up following the July 15 coup; a total of 80,000 people, including nearly 20,000 women, have been detained. 120,000 people have been taken into custody, 40,000 of whom remain in prison. Over 150,000 civil servants have been suspended from their jobs.
Nearly 5,000 members of judiciary were suspended thus far. Together with the convicts, 242 journalists are in prison. Turkey has the largest population of journalists in prison in the world. Hundreds of private institutions and companies have been seized by the government. Thousands of private educational institutions have been closed.
If you ask why, most people in Turkey would answer, “Because they are traitors.” And they would point to the July 15th coup attempt. In fact, this is a witch-hunt process which started two years before the coup. In addition, with the exception of the AKP, all of the opposition parties believe that July 15th was a staged coup controlled by Erdoğan. There are hundreds of questions waiting to be answered, and a plethora of dark spots waiting to be illuminated about the coup. Erdoğan and his staff do not answer these questions.
But the “criminals without a crime” continue to be mercilessly punished.
Because, after all, that was the purpose.
Ahmet Donmez is an author and one of the best Turkish investigative journalists in exile.
(The graphic is taken from the video titled ‘Story of Gokhan’ created by ‘Huddled Masses Media’
published on May 29, 2018)