By Ihsan Bal
Ask why states exist and one of the first things to come up in reply will doubtlessly be ‘in order to have a system of justice that functions properly.’ As the Turkish expression goes ‘justice is the basis of ownership.’
We have not yet heard the final verdicts in the Ergenekon trials at Silivri [of persons accused of belonging to a criminal underground organisation plotting a coup.] Putting together the information and findings from hundreds of witnesses, persons accused, secret witnesses, and the indictments which run to hundreds of thousands of pages, is like completing a giant jigsaw.
A large number of basic criticisms have continually been voiced – for example that there were legal errors and deficiencies in the process and even that some arrests were made unnecessarily and that the case has dragged on for too long. Certainly, in such cases one must always bear in mind the risk that innocent and guilty could be confused and that innocent people could get hurt. But all these concerns do not give us the freedom to interfere in the state’s judicial authority or mean that we should not put up with what amounts in practice to attempts to stop it holding trials.
The way to the rule of law does not lie in using extra-legal methods. And in particular, attempts to equate the trials at Silivri with a coup tribunal are something which should disturb our consciences as well as our common sense.
What is a coup tribunal?
Perhaps it is worth reminding readers: at a coup tribunal, lawyers do not occupy the courtroom and bang their fists on the table. They do not make one-sided propaganda, going around all day from newspaper to newspaper, and TV station to TV station. They do not gather in front of court houses and blockade them with crowds of followers. Coup tribunals are not broadcast with hundreds of cameras and hundreds of commentator, showing the public what is going on live and without censorship. Television channels, radio stations, and news cannot take up hours and pages publishing comments about coup tribunals.
Innumerable examples could be given about this issue to form comparisons, but I advise those who are not convinced simply to examine the written and visual shows about the Yassıada trials of the Democrat Party leaders in 1960, showing how they were conducted, how the evidence was gathered, how defence rights operated, and finally the way in which the verdicts were handed out.
The courts of the 12 September Coup in 1980 brought torture and abuse to intolerable levels and in this connection one inevitably thinks of Erdal Eren and Mustafa Pehlivanlıoğlu who went to the gallows at the ages of 17 and 22 respectively. Eren said in a letter which he left behind “The things that were done [to us] in prison – I think you find out in detail what happened – we were reduced to whimpering under inhuman cruelty. I saw so much brutality, so much villainy that it became a torture even to live through these days. So dying is not something to be feared in such a situation, it becomes something you violently desire, a way of being rescued. In a situation like this, it is nothing for a person to end their life by committing suicide, but in this situation I have relied on my will power and kept on living no matter what the cost. Even though one day soon, I am going to be put to death. The reason why I am telling you this is so that you should not think I am fed up with being alive or that I do not grasp the importance and seriousness of the affair.”
That is what a coup is and the tribunals are peculiar to it. It was not in vain that they say “human memory is crippled by forgetfulness.” To forget what Turkey has experienced in the past and so compare Silivri to a coup tribunal reflects a great deficit of memory.
Judges speak through their verdicts and rulings. The people who are currently going around commenting on their behalf instead of waiting for the summing up and offering definite judgements in advance are behaving very doubtfully, no matter how sincere they profess to be about the supremacy of law and freedom of the judiciary.
Laying siege to a court house and subjecting its members to intense pressure by hurling threats at its members and then labelling it a “coup tribunal” as if it was similar to Yassıada – all this is enough to make people with consciences cry out “for heaven’s sake give up!”
I hope this case will finish in the courtroom; otherwise the business looks likely to spill over into the police stations.
Head of USAK Science Committee
*This article was first published on Saturday 15 December 2012 in HaberTürk newspaper. It was translated by David Barchard.