The Republic of Turkey is turning a hundred years next year. But what would be there to greet the father of the nation, Kemal Ataturk, if he were to rise from the dead for the celebrations? Centenarian Turkey is the country of extremes, where, among other things, it is also now a crime to bury the dead perceived as enemies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
“It is a funny but true investigation”, a citizen said on his social media Twitter account in response to news that the Turkish prosecutor in the Western Turkey Province of Denizli has launched investigation into a man who attended funerals of two people who had been accused of links to the Gulen movement.
The account holder just could not comprehend what constitutes a crime of helping the organization that attempts to overthrow the Constitutional order, the state and even the government by praying for the dead and attending their… normal funerals.” About three months ago a religious leader in Eremite, also in the west of Turkey, gave instructions of not to conduct funeral prayers for 70-year-old aunt of Gulen.
Come the rule of law, the World Justice Report (WJP) in its just published 2022 index, Turkey has been ranked 116 among 140 countries. In terms of terms of constraints on government powers it is the 135th, and in terms of fundamental rights, the 134th. Turkey came last in the Eastern Europe and Central Asian group, worse than Russia and Belarus. In the global ranking the country came after Angola and Mali, above the Republic of the Congo and Iran.
While Denmark, Norway, Finland and Germany were among best performers in the index, Cameroon, Egypt, DRC, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Venezuela were placed at the bottom. Eight areas addressed by the index are constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice
The Erdogan regime has a special appetite for jailing its people. As if the completion of 18 new prisons by the end of the year is not enough bad news, the current budget session, which started in mid-October, has been told 20 more have been planned in the next (2023) financial year with more funding going to the Directorate of General Prisons and Houses of Detention.
The country has a high incarceration rate. At present 314,000 inmates are held in 384 prisons with capacity of 271,823 people. As of January 2021, Turkey had the second-highest prison population after Russia in the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) member states. According to the CoE 21 Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations, Turkey has a density of 325 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, which is equivalent to about 320% above the corresponding European figure of 102 inmates.
The media atmosphere is in turmoil as the country inches on to next year’s presidential and general elections. Pressure is rising on newsrooms and broadcasting bans, financial penalties and judicial probes and new legal threats following the enactment of the law on disinformation. On October 25,2022, eleven reporters from two news agencies were detained in police raids on their homes and offices. A video clip showed officers armed with long-barreled guns led the operation. Sixteen journalists from the same institutions were arrested in June.
Turkey parliament early in October adopted a law proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that would see journalists and social media users being jailed for up to three years for spreading “disinformation”.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the detentions demonstrated turkey’s “lawlessness”. “We condemn these attacks against the press and workers in the strongest terms; release the journalists immediately. Such attacks failed to yield results (for the government yesterday) and they will fail to yield results today.” Turkey was ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the annual media freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) earlier this year.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Gulnoza Said has said that recent reports published by pro-government sharing locations of Turkish journalists living in exile are “unethical and irresponsible” and “could lead to serious harm.”
He said this is unacceptable because it puts lives at great risk especially given the history of physical attacks on several Turkish journalists living in exile. In separate stories pro-government media revealed locations of three journalists, portraying them as criminals on the run. These include Dr. Bulent Kenes, author of “Genocide in the Making?” The book makes a non-arguable case of the Erdogan government crackdown on members of the Gulen Movement. In July 2021 exiled Turkish journalist BirGun was attacked outside his home in Berlin, Germany, by three assailants.
A day after the raid on journalists’ homes and offices, the police did the same to the house of the Turkish medical association (TTP) chief executive, Prof. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, in the early hours, detaining her for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda”. This emanated from an investigation mounted earlier after Prof. Fincanci said allegations of the use of chemical gases in Northern Iraq against PKK militants should be investigated by an independent commission.
Her lawyer said the raid was conducted despite the police being informed that she would avail herself for questioning any time they wanted her to do so. “Instead, we found the police at our door”, she tweeted. A day earlier, President Erdogan’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) ally Devlet Bahceli had called for the disbandment of the association and stripping Prof. Fincanci of her Turkish citizenship.In a post-Fincanci arrest development, prosecutors embarked on a strategy to seek the removal of the doctors’ union management.
The Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement condemning the professor’s arrest. “Jailing this leading human rights defender simply for calling for an independent investigation into alleged use of banned weapons is an appalling abuse of power. Arbitrarily imprisoning (her) has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with silencing her and sending a chilling message to others,” said AI’s senior research advisor.
Of late, Turkey has detained 542 people over alleged Gulen links in a nationwide operation following the issuance of more than 700 arrest warrants, according to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. The operation was carried out in 59 of the country’s 81 provinces.
There is already a feeling that at the current moment, so long as the Erdogan regime is in power, “every square meter of Turkey land is news and that incidents taking place there in a day may be equal to or outstrip those likely to occur in any European country in a year.” Or as it is said in some writings, it is a country where the impossible reads: “I’m possible”. Just like criminalizing attending a funeral.