A BRAVEHEART: AHMET ALTAN
A while ago, at the trial that includes also Altan brothers, three writers and three journalists have been sentenced to heavy life imprisonment; to re-phrase it with the description of the old law: capital punishment! This punishment is given for them to be involved in the July 15 military coup attempt. Being the heaviest sentence that can be given according to the Turkish laws, this punishment is described as “An unprecedented attack to free speech and free thought” by the representatives of the UN and OSCE.
Although the court accuses them to conduct “a coup”, the decree of the Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) for Mehmet Altan issued a short while ago stating that “there is a violation of human rights”, and the counter-decision of the related court “rejecting” to comply with the decree of the AYM, have showed that the reality is not like that at all. To the court, the AYM stated that, “there is not any material evidence at all enough for the defendant to be jailed pending trial,” and clearly determined that his detention is a violation of a Constitutional right. The local court, however, said, “I have many evidence at my hand, but I cannot show them to you,” and did not obey the decree of the AYM –which is completely impossible according to our Constitution, as the decisions of the AYM are final and all other courts are obliged to comply with them.
Rıza Türmen, a former judge of the ECHR, made this explanation about this tragicomic “reason”: “The reason claiming that the AYM does not know the case file is a nonsense argument. In the European Council, there are 47 member states of the ECHR. In none of these countries, judges have said something like ‘I am keeping the evidence confidential.’ How cannot he reveal the evidence, as he has to judge according to the evidence at hand. Meanwhile, the ECHR is going to adjudicate according to this, too. If you cannot disclose, then it means you don’t have such an evidence.”
Rıza Türmen was indeed right. The ECHR discussed this unlawfulness in February and has convicted Turkey for these cases. The ECHR is expected to announce its verdict on 20 March. We will then see what the judiciary, which is acting presently as civil servant of the executive, is going to do.
The constitutional crime that the government and the judiciary itself have committed, in spite of the clear approach of the ECHR, is now a step further with this last decree of conviction. Well then, what is it that motivates these judges and prosecutors, who operate within a legal system and whose responsibility is to provide justice and give people their due rights, to act so heedlessly?
Ergin Cirmen, one of Ahmet Altan’s lawyers, gives the following reply to this question: “The judiciary in Turkey has become an office of the political power. I have been working as a lawyer for many years. I served as a lawyer in the most problematic periods of Turkey, too. This period of time, however, is unfolding very differently. We used to strive for by saying that freedom of expression etc. are restricted, but today, they are putting the intentions and personalities of people into trial… They always mention the names of Altans, or Ilıcak, just because they are famous characters, but there are also 3 other journalists from Zaman newspaper in this case. That is, the court committed a complete massacre against the press, and applied ‘the Criminal Law of the Enemy (The Feindstrafrecht). This can only be named this!”
In this case, at which the judges actually punished the defendants for death sentence with the logic of the old laws, all of the defendants, for whom the right to life is simply seen as luxury, have got only one common point: To be an opponent of Erdogan or working as a journalist at an opponent newspaper!
To be able to understand this hodgepeodge we are in and its causes, before we quote some parts from Ahmet Altan’s defense statement, we will first start with a paragraph from Emile Zola’s famous article, who, similarly, addressed the fascists of his time 100 years ago. Zola intervened in the case against a soldier who had been “bedevilled” and wanted to be sentenced for life imprisonment. Carrying the responsibility of being an intellectual and a “human”, he fearlessly roared and said these to the power holders of the time:
“My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit… How flimsy it is! The fact that someone could have been convicted on this charge is ultimate iniquity. I defy decent men to read it without a stir of indignation in their hearts and a cry of revulsion, at the thought of the undeserved punishment being meted out there on Devil’s Island! Can you understand this: for the last year, General Billot, Generals Gonse and de Boisdeffre have known that Dreyfus is innocent, and they have kept this terrible knowledge to themselves? And these people sleep at night, and have wives and children they love!”
Ahmet Altan, too, began his ground-breaking defence with a description of “the law”: “The Law is a body of values, shaped by the iron mace of the pains that the humans have been inflicting on each other, since the creation of mankind. Each committed injustice has empowered it a bit more and made it grander. With every unjust act, the importance and the essentiality of the Law have been better recognised. Each stroke of the unjustness-hammer has shaped the Law with sharper and clearer lines. This hammer, however, has never been able to break, ruin, or rip off any piece from, the Law. Every despot, every villain, every tyrant have wanted to kill the Law, but the power of none of them has been (and never be) enough for this.”
Altan explains how the Law –the superior and sublime value– manifests itself in practice and points out the danger awaits it as follows: “It is the judiciary that takes the Law from high summits and introduces it to the society. Girded with strong armours, the judiciary conveys the god of the Law to the public with its bright and powerful wings. Among the trivet of the Law, the judiciary, and the justice, in this holy chain, the weakest link, or leg, that can be hit, injured or killed, is the judiciary. Because of this, the first target of every despot, every tyrant has always been the judiciary.”
Mr. Altan asserts that the judiciary can be abused only by “betraying” this holy duty: “It would be difficult to find an example that can relate so well to what we are going through today. We are being trialled in a country where what was once “foolishness” is now reckoned “justice”. If the judiciary is shot, it certainly has been betrayed. Not one real prosecutor, not one true judge, not one true lawyer would be an instrument for this betrayal.” He also draws attention to the dirty collaboration of today’s jurists with the politicians of this regime: “Finding the real culprits is not what is important for these prosecutors. Their duty is; to disguise the reality by protecting the actual perpetrators and prosecuting those who have no responsibility in this incidence; to water the roots of fear; to feed terror; and to pave the way for the oppressive regime that Erdogan wants, by disseminating in the society, the perception of ‘There is no need for any evidence, we can try and imprison anyone we want with a life sentence’.”
Mr. Altan points out the same evil purpose as the reason for why the most terrifying thing that can happen to a political government while ruling the country –the coup– to be described as “God’s blessing” by themselves: “There are two prominent purposes of these bizarre practices that are a tragedy for Turkey, but a comedy for those watching Turkey from outside: First, to prevent any opposition against Erdogan by creating a huge violence and fear within the society. Second, to prevent serious questions from being asked about July 15, with the curtain of fog created by incomprehensible conceptual confusion. Even this trial only, which announces the whole world “the death of the judiciary” and invites the whole world to the funeral of the Turkish jurisdiction, proves how the July 15 event is used as a leverage to establish a dictatorship.”
In today’s Turkey where only criticising Erdogan is deemed as making propaganda of a terrorist organisation, it is not possible to say definitely where this train, which is plunging towards an abyss with a great speed, will be able to stop, or if it won’t be able to, with how much of a damage will this very sad final conclude. It is, however, quite possible to look in the mirror of history and say that the bill of the values that have been sacrificed just to salvage today will be very high for those who do not see any problem in making this exchange and it will be “too late” for somethings.
Let us end our writing with the final words of the unforgettable defence of Mr. Altan, who has always lived with a free, brave, and dignified soul: “There is a reality that history shows us. Whichever despot punished his opponents with unlawful practices, he himself has been punished with the same punishments. The one who sent his opponents to guillotine, has ended up on the guillotine; the one who unjustly imprisoned others, he himself has been prisoned; the one who exiled others, he himself has been exiled. The unjust punishments given by despots have also been marked as their final destination in the maps of their fate.”