The root of the problem: the Special Authorized Courts

While I write this, late on Sunday night, there is chaos in the Turkish parliament. Before the summer recess starts next week, the ruling AKP party wants to change the law on Special Authorized Courts. Emotions are running high, even leading to a fist fight, and the outcome is unclear – and it will probably take a few more hours. But still, some reflections about what’s going on can be put to paper already.

Special Authorized Courts (SAC’s) were established in 2005 to fight serious crimes like staging coups, terrorism and drugs-related crimes. They replaced the State Security Courts, set up in 1983 by the military rulers who led the 1980 coup, and which were only abolished in 2004. The problems of both special courts are more or less the same: defendants have far less rights than in normal criminal courts, the remand periods can be excessive and people can be held on remand with little or no evidence against them.

The most famous cases now being handled by SAC’s are the KCK-trials and the Ergekenon trials. Both are controversial, to say the least. An amazing number of people are being tried, it all takes ages and there is no evidence against them or there is a strong suspicion the evidence is forged. Or they are being tried for things that should never be punishable in a democracy, like expressing your opinion, either in speeches or writing them down in a newspaper.

Better of without the SAC’s

The AKP installed the SAC’s in 2004 and has not done anything to stop the unjust treatment of suspects in the case up until very recently. Suddenly, the SAC’s had to be abolished. Prime Minister Erdogan admits things got out of hand. The CHP also wants to have them abolished, and the BDP as well. They fight like hell over how that should be done, but at least a huge majority in parliament agrees the country is better off without the SAC’s.

You may wonder why the AKP is suddenly so eager to abolish the SAC’s. They have been supporting both the Ergenekon and KCK trial. The argumentation is that especially the Ergenekon case will bring democracy closer, since that case helps breaks the tradition of the army staging coups against democratically elected governments. Which is true, but there is just too much ‘collateral damage’. You can perfectly well prosecute coup plotters without also throwing in jail journalists and academicis who sympathize with those who (allegedly, since nobody is convicted yet) planned a coup.

Now, doesn’t the AKP find the fight for more democracy important anymore? Now don’t laugh cynically, I know democratization hasn’t been high on the priority list of the government for some time now, but in this matter the question needs to be asked. Well, they say they do, and they say that both the ongoing cases won’t be affected by the new law. They say that to reassure the judiciary, which has warned against abolishing SAC’s: the cases might fall apart and suspects might have to be set free. The AKP promises to ‘repair’ that with another law.

Suspects run free

Which is ridiculous, in my humble opinion. If you see that the SAC’s don’t work and flagrantly violate basic rights of suspects in criminal cases, it’s against any logic to exclude the very cases it all started with from the benefit of a change to the law. If changing the law means that the cases fall apart and suspects run free, then so be it. I’m sure there is a way to keep in jail the people against whom strong evidence is available, c at least until their trial can continue. The others shouldn’t have been in jail in the first place.

Anyway, what might make the AKP eager to abolish the courts now is that, so I heard, they might be the next victims of the SAC’s. To be more precise: the municipalities in AKP hands. Some municipalities governed by the CHP are in trouble already with the SAC’s in corruption trials, and there are rumours the AKP might be next, based on real or bogus or weak allegations. The government, in other words, has lost its grip on the judiciary.

Lost to whom? The AKP is closely related to the religious Gülen movement, lead by preacher Fethullah Gülen, residing in the United States. The Gülen movement has many followers in Turkey – they made the AKP big. The ‘Fethullahci’s’ supposedly have a strong hold on the judiciary now. The relations between the AKP and Gülen’s movement have been cooling down though for some time now. A sign of that was, or might have been, the warrant issued last February for the arrest of the highest-ranked boss of the national intelligence service MIT, Hakan Fidan. That was seen by some as an attack by the judiciary on the AKP, since Fidan was appointed by Erdogan personally and he held talks in the Norwegian capital of Oslo with representatives of Kurdish separatist movement, the PKK. The AKP very quickly changed the law to get Fidan off the hook. But what if there is another ‘judiciary coup’ in the making against the AKP? You can’t keep fixing the law with by-laws, at some point, you have to erase the root of the problem.

Contribute to true democracy

I’m not sure if this is true, but it would make some sense of why the AKP is so eager to get rid of the SAC’s before summer recess, after not taking any action against this judicial piracy for years. A huge, very fierce power struggle between the government and the institutions ruled by the people they put in place themselves: how utterly intriguing is that?

While the parliamentarians keep on fighting (or start their summer recess), I am spending my Monday in a court room. In Silivri, west of Istanbul, where an important part of the KCK trials has started. It is the case against, among others, academic Büsra Ersanli and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, who are being accused of respectively ‘leading a terrorist organisation’ and ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’. Read here how ridiculous the allegations are. The sooner the SAC’s are abolished, the better. So people who really want to contribute to true democracy, of which Ersanli and Zarakolu couldn’t be better examples, are set free as soon as possible.

3 thoughts on “The root of the problem: the Special Authorized Courts”

  1. Of course, now that the SACs are abolished they will simply be replaced with ‘Special regional courts’ or whatever they’re calling them in English that will do exactly the same thing so that nothing will change really in the end.

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  2. Frederike, it’s one thing to suggest that they haven’t done anything to deserve being arrested, but for you to suggest that Ersanli and Zarakolu couldn’t be better examples of people who really want to contribute to true democracy is insane! It’s like someone suggesting that there couldn’t be better examples of people who really want to contribute to true democracy in the US than Tokyo Rose or Adam Ghadan!

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