Gültekin Avcı, a former Turkish prosecutor and a columnist for the shuttered daily Bugün, has been repeatedly detained since 2015, with his columns cited as evidence against him. He was most recently arrested in 2019, one day after he was released from prison. In December 2020, he was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison.
Gültekin Avcı’s biggest crime was his courage, pushing the limits. His speeches, backed by legal language and strong reasoning with solid evidence, disrupted the psyche of those in power. He presented the plainest truth, pointed out the government’s sins to the public, and exposed the external actors and internal networks intertwined with the AKP government. He did all of this with the rigor of a legal scholar and the clarity of a journalist.
In my opinion, what bothered the government the most were his speeches and writings on the Selam Tevhid trials. Avcı was exposing how the government was protecting this organization and revealing the connections between them. He had evidence of those who had engaged in espionage against the Republic of Turkey in the Selam Tevhid trials. These individuals had connections that reached important AKP politicians and bureaucrats. All of those tried in the Selam Tevhit cases were released shortly thereafter. Their political sponsors continue to hold some of the most significant positions in the country. For years, those who used to proclaim, “Turkey will not become Iran!” ignored this evidence and these trials. More interestingly, many of them now praise Iran and Russia, while those who fulfilled their legal duties by bringing these matters to light – the police officers, judges, and Gültekin Avcı who wrote about these issues – have been in prison for eight years. They wasted the most qualified and necessary individuals for the country simply because they did not pledge allegiance. They put worthless individuals in top positions. Nowadays, we learn that they don’t even provide Gültekin Avcı with his medication in prison due to his columns.
Gültekin Avcı’s crime is being an honest, outspoken intellectual who does not withhold his words and fearlessly shouts out the truths. If he had been a sycophant to those in power, like many who sold their pens, he would be in offices and villas right now, not in prison.
It’s been exactly eight years since I left Turkey. Eight long years away from my homeland, some of my friends, the streets I grew up on, and the cities I lived in. I can’t even visit my deceased parents’ graves and recite the Fatiha because the current government and its judiciary treat me as a “hardened terrorist.” Despite never harming anyone, never getting involved with the police or the courts, always having a pen and a book in my hand, those in power label me as such. Unfortunately, millions of teachers, academics, journalists, bureaucrats, businessmen, and civil servants who have no connection to anything but writing, reading, and studying have also been labeled as “terrorists” and thrown into prison.
Do I really want to go back to Turkey? Am I eager to see those lands submerged in oppression again?
I have mixed feelings about Turkey due to the heartless treatment and profound silence towards those imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted. But being unable to visit your own country, your own land, because of outlaws, is a bitter pill to swallow. It’s a challenging situation to accept, especially when you have devoted your life to the development and strengthening of the country you love and consider your own. Even more painful is that millions of innocent people, who have never done anything more than endure provocation and oppression for the past ten years, are believed to be guilty by the public. Intellectuals with a semblance of opposition continue to roar with the language of the government.
Apart from my personal experiences and suffering during this time, what hurts the most is witnessing people we know, people known for their kindness, honesty, and innocence, being treated as “hardened criminals” and thrown into prison. They forced the most qualified and necessary individuals in the country to either leave or lock them behind iron bars. One of them is someone I’ve always been proud to know, Ibrahim Cerrah, a sociology professor with a Ph.D. from the UK, who twice won the Fulbright scholarship to the US and taught the community and the youth about prayer, religious knowledge, and beliefs as an imam in his neighborhood. Another one I remember with a heavy heart is Gültekin Avcı.
Of course, the suffering and injustice faced by each innocent and oppressed person deeply affects us. But imprisoning and wasting the lives of those who have worked for the country, grappled with intellectual dilemmas, and dedicated themselves to their nation, society, and humanity is like a dagger piercing our hearts.
Eight years ago, in a September much like this one, Gültekin Avcı and I appeared on a program together on STV. We chatted in the backstage area. Despite having just smoked a cigarette, he seemed tense and worried. When I told him, “Hopefully, I will be going to the UK as a visiting lecturer soon,” he replied, “I wish I could leave too. They will come after me. I can feel it; I know they have a personal grudge against me.”
I flew to the UK two days after that conversation. Gültekin Avcı was arrested a few days after me. It wasn’t even July 15 yet, and the law had not fully become “the dog of politics.” He spent some time in jail before being released. After his release, I called him to say, “Get well soon,” and we exchanged pleasantries. But July 15 and AKP’s authoritarianism gave them the opportunity to imprison tens of thousands of people and strip hundreds of thousands of their jobs.