From Tansu Ciller to Tayyip Erdogan

Today, the biggest court case against journalists in the history of the Turkish republic starts. No less than 44 Kurdish journalists are being tried for ‘membership of an illegal organisation’, namely the KCK, the Union of Communities in Kurdistan. To cut it short: they are not members of any group, there is no proof against them whatsoever, the indictments are full of nonsense. They are being put on trial just because of their writing about the Kurdish issue.

The journalists were taken into custody on 20 December last year. Nine of them were released, but 35 have been in jail ever since without any charges being laid against them. Most of them work for Kurdish news agency DIHA (Dicle Haber Ajans), some write for daily papers Özgür Gündem and Kurdish language Azadiya Welat, some work for the company which distributes these media.

Front page of Özgür Ülke the day after the bombing in December 1994. The headline says: This fire will burn you too.

As it happens, I am working on a big story about the Kurdish press. In my story I focus on Özgür Gündem / Özgür Ülke. I’m delving into the history of the paper. One of the most tragic days was 3 December 1994, when their Istanbul office in Eminönü was bombed early in the morning. One employee of the paper was killed, 21 were wounded.
There was immediate suspicion the state was behind it, and that very month, the proof of that emerged. A secret document from the National Security Council revealed that it was the Prime Minister herself, Tansu Ciller, who signed the decision to ‘eliminate’ the paper. The document was dated 30 November, three days before the bombing.

Something similar is happening today. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t even make it a secret that he wishes to silence activist Kurds. Some weeks ago, footage came out showing BDP MP’s being stopped on a road in Southeast Turkey by the PKK. They were pretty happy to see each other, and some MP’s were seen hugging the PKK guys. The ‘hugging incident’ has caused a lot of debate ever since. Erdogan challenged the MP’s, saying that they have to make up their minds about whether they want to be in the parliament or in the mountains.

But now, Erdogan has gone even one step further. He said that if the judiciary opens a case against the huggers, the parliament will do its own part in the deal and take care of lifting the parliamentary immunity of the MP’s, so they can be put on trial for hugging. No prosecutor has opened a case yet, although there were already reports earlier of a prosecutor starting an investigation into the incident.

Tansu Ciller, Turkey’s PM between June 1993 and March 1996.

Tansu Ciller did something similar in the nineties. She arranged for a case to be opened against all seven MP’s from the Kurdish party of the time, the Demokrasi Partisi (DEP), and subsequently arranged the lifting of their parliamentary immunity. Four of the MP’s (Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, Selim Sadak and Hatip Dicle) ended up serving long prison terms.

State institutions doing deals with each other to shut Kurds up. It’s a clear violation of the separation of powers, apart from the usual misuse of anti-terrorism laws and the violation of democratic rights. Not that much has changed since the nineties.

Nothing much is expected to happen during this first day of the trial. I talked to the lawyers representing the journalists. The journalists will try to defend themselves in Kurdish – and one of them actually in Hamshen, or Hemsince in Turkish, a language from the north-east of Turkey. The judge will not allow that and he will turn the microphone off. The court secretary will note that ‘an unknown language’ was being spoken. And the suspects won’t be released and sent back to jail till the next hearing, weeks, or maybe months later.

No judicial salvation can be expected from this case, because it is not a legal case, but a political one. So a political solution to the underlying problem is needed to bring the case to an end with the only possible just outcome: the acquittal and release of the journalists. I don’t see that happening any time soon. Because instead of steadily working on a desperately needed new constitution with all groups in parliament, today’s manipulative Prime Minister is trying to get the Kurdish MP’s behind bars too.

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