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State of Emergency (OHAL)’s Sad Birthday: “Cemetery for human rights”

Mustafa Oz- Engin Derkunt, Washington Hatti US

In the aftermath of the July 15, 2016, coup [1] attempt, Turkey has been in a countrywide state of emergency (“OHAL,” with its Turkish acronym) for a year now and it is not certain if, in the foreseeable future, OHAL will be lifted. OHAL gives the Turkish government the opportunity to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms as it wishes, with the excuse of “security concerns.” Announcing OHAL right after the coup attempt was supported by opposition parties as well under severe conditions of the country but as OHAL became an excuse to purge and jail thousands of citizens, reaction got bigger.

Starting with a 3-month OHAL on July 21, 2016, it has been extended four more times, with 3-month intervals, in October of 2016 and in January and April of 2017, culminating into its latest extension, earlier this week.

The OHAL statute was approved in 1983, after the 1982 Constitution, which was the poisonous fruit of the September 12, 1980, military coup. OHAL was first implemented for about 15 years, between 1987 and 2002 [2], in just the eastern and southeastern provinces of Turkey (about 20 % of the country), as a panacea in the fight against the Kurdish-separatist PKK’s terroristic activities. There were credible allegations of human rights abuses, such as torture, kidnappings, and extrajudicial executions then also.

In the days following the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, many of military officers who were caught red-handed attempting to overthrow the government arrested. Immediately after the coup, in those following tense days, the allegations of physical and mental torture, color pictures of severely tortured generals and senior officers appeared on the front pages of the newspapers and Turkish State news agency, AA. Leading governing officials, including ministers’ some remarks appeared not to respect for the rule of law, such as Mr. Zeybekci, Minister of the Economy, who stated in a public speech that the arrestees would be treated so badly that, “they will beg to get killed”. Mental torture included, reportedly, threats of close relatives’ arrest, threats of rape. Authorities have acknowledged that 29 “militants” died in pretrial detention.

Five days after the failed coup, the government declared OHAL (state of emergency) and then the crackdown started. It has swept up not just Gulenists but anyone who has opposing views to the Erdogan regime. A modern day McCarthyism has gripped Turkey. Even people with no real links to the Gulenists, including leftists, Kurds, Kemalists or Alevis were purged. According to the Ministry of Justice 50,510 people were arrested on charges of being in connection with the Gulen network within a year. In the year since the coup attempt, 168,896 people have been investigated for ties to the FETO [3]. Of these, 50,510 are detained, awaiting trial. Among the incarcerated, 2,431 [4] are from the judiciary, 7,250 [5] from the military, 8,811 from the police, 213 are local administrators (provincial governors, vice-governors, district governors), and the remaining 31,772 are from other professions (mostly teachers). A total of 100,797 public employees have been sacked, and over 140,000 passports have been canceled.

Two other institutions most affected by the KHKs were the media and the academia. In the print and broadcast media, 28 TV channels, 66 newspapers, 19 magazines, 36 radio stations, 26 publishing houses, and five news agencies were shut down. As of May of 2017, 162 journalists (including 12 from the anti-Gulen left daily Cumhuriyet) were incarcerated (most of them for the last 8-to-10 months). These include some internationally known journalists, such as Kadri Gursel of the International Press Institute. Many others lost their jobs since 2013, upon calls made to the publishers and TV station owners by Mr. Erdogan himself or by his advisors. Just in 2016, 778 press credentials were canceled by the government, and 2,708 reporters lost their jobs. According to the Annual Report on Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkey is the “world’s biggest prison for journalists” now, with more than 160 journalists jailed with anti-terror charges, based on their critical coverage of government actions. For example, journalist Ahmet Sik had been imprisoned for 12 months as an alleged terrorist because of his harsh criticism of the Gulenists in 2011. Late last year, he was arrested again but, this time, absurdly, for being a collaborationist of the Gulen network.

More than 8 thousands academics were dismissed, and the government ordered the expulsion of 226 higher education students studying abroad in Canada, the UK, and the US from their Turkish degree-granting institutions. Those journalists and academics who have been purged but not yet jailed get them and their spouses’ passports confiscated and any overseas travel prohibited. These people were not just fired from their work, but also they were deprived of any chance of getting new jobs in either public or private sector. One purged academic said, “They don’t let me live here, they don’t let me leave here. I am destroyed.” These people were dismissed without any investigation or evidence.

Among the 33,074 teachers who lost their jobs, 4,756 have been detained, and 5,117 have been released under judicial controls; 627 teachers are in hiding or fled the country. Close to 1,000 of Gulen movement’s K-12 schools were disbanded, as well as their 15 private foundation universities.  The tsunami did not spare military schools either: all of the military high schools (some dating back to the late XVIII. Century) were permanently closed down and the 3 military academies were regrouped under the National Defense University for closer control.

The termination of 5,247 academicians from 117 universities, through 6 different KHKs, and the closure of the 15 Hizmet-affiliated private foundation universities increased the total number of unemployed academicians to 8,427.  Roughly 15,000 tenured research assistants lost their tenure and the government purged 226 scholarship students working on graduate degrees in Canada, the UK, and the USA.  The purge includes the decertification of both their undergraduate and graduate degrees, thus making them unemployable in Turkey.

Those journalists and academics who have been purged but not yet jailed got their and their spouses’ passports confiscated, under a blanket foreign travel ban.  These purges meant more than regular firings because they also deprived the victims (and their spouses[1]) of any chance of getting new jobs in either public or private sector.  One purged academic muttered, “They don’t let me live here, they don’t let me leave here. I am destroyed.”  These people (including some who had already passed away before the coup attempt) were dismissed without any clear accusation, investigation, rebuttal opportunity, or evidence.

Finally, about 900 companies, with combined assets of over €11 billion, have been collectivized (confiscated without any judicial proceedings), 53 municipalities (mostly in Kurdish eastern and southeastern provinces) have been put in receivership, and their major shareholders and mayors arrested.

Most recently:

Because the 517-kilometer (322 miles, from Ankara to Istanbul), 25-day Walk for Justice (as well as human and civil rights), by the otherwise-passive opposition leader Kilicdaroglu, which was crowned with a 2-million-person rally in Istanbul on July 9th, seems to have greatly disturbed President Erdogan.

In a BBC HardTalk interview with the overly-polite Zainab Badawi, he accused her of restricting his freedom of speech and of trying to drive a wedge between him and British [with Turkish ancestry] Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

Later, to his domestic supporters, he stated that he would “decapitate” (break the heads off) the “terrorists.”  Following his leader, Sedat Peker, an infamous Turkish Mafioso, made various threats about storming the prisons and hanging FETO adherents’ corpses from flag poles and trees if anything (through assassination or even for natural causes) ever happened to their “Reis.”[2]

In Istanbul’s Prince Islands [Big Island], an international human rights symposium organized by Hivos[3] was raided by the police and 10 attendees (including 2 executives from the Turkish branch of Amnesty International) were arrested for spying and other subversive activities; 6 (including 2 foreign nationals) were later detained awaiting trial.

With a new KHK (on July 14th, the eve of the coup attempt anniversary), 7,563 more people were purged, including the former Governor of Istanbul.  More than half of them (3,789) were from the Ministry of the Interior.  342 were retired military officers (who thus lost their ranks and all their benefits), 302 more were academicians, 418 from the Ministry of Justice, 789 from the Military of Health, and 551 from the Directorate of Religious Affairs.  Two retired star football players had their honorary medals annulled (for no other reason but to fight terrorism, of course!).

* * * * * * * *

“OHAL … has converted Turkey into a cemetery for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Hişyar Özsoy, an HDP[4] deputy.  It seems that OHAL (the state of emergency) will continue for a while more: as President Erdogan opined, he will only get emergency rule lifted when “we no longer need to fight terrorism.”

So was the one-year descent from authoritarian democracy into near-totalitarianism.

[1] Some opponents of the government, close to the Gulen Movement, call it a “fake coup.”  On the other hand, Mr. Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the center-left People’s Republican Party [CHP, the main opposition party], calls it a “controlled coup,” meaning that the government had found out about the plot in advance, [2] it had the capability to block the whole coup attempt and prevent the 249 deaths, but that [3] it chose to let it happen in order to later use it as a justification (President Erdogan called it “Gift of God”) for a civilian counter-coup, defined by OHAL and the KHKs, executive orders with force of statute.

[2] While Turkey went through a process of democratization between the late 1990s and 2008-09, this process stagnated in the following 5 years, and got reversed since the pro-environment Gezi [promenade] Park protests of May-June, 2013.  Especially since the coup attempt of July 2016, the situation got rapidly worse, beyond recognition and beyond anybody’s worst fears.  As alleged by the pro-government media, the coup was executed by the Hizmet Movement and supported (behind the scenes) by NATO and the CIA.  Hizmet is a quasi-religious movement mostly focused on primary and secondary education, led by the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric (arch-imam) Fethullah Gulen.  While Hizmet and the Erdogan government were best of friends for about 10-11 years, they had a falling out with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [now President], when some multi-billion-dollar corruption was alleged (through surreptitiously recorded private inculpating conversations) by the pro-Hizmet judiciary, police, and media against Erdogan’s person, family, and cronies, in December of 2013.

[3] The government-invented name of Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization.

[4] These include 2 judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court [Anayasa Mahkemesi], 41 judges of the Supreme Administrative Court [Danistay], 3 judges of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK], and 105 judges of the Supreme Court of Civil and Criminal Appeals [Yargitay].

[5] Including 169 generals.

[6] Spouses, parents, and children, as well as some other close relatives, are often treated as guilty-by-association.  If one flees overseas, the others are taken as hostages.  Even if some judges and prosecutors cannot swallow all this injustice, the non-cooperating ones are swiftly replaced, internally exiled, or even themselves purged and arrested.  There are also 516 young detained mothers (some with 2 children and some straight out of the delivery room of hospitals) imprisoned with their 560 infant babies, toddlers, and young children, aged 0-to-6.  Because of these children and the noise they might generate tend to annoy some of the other inmates in the extremely overcrowded quarters of the OHAL prisons, they are sometimes given tranquilizers to keep them quiet!

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