Hate speech among Turkey's judiciary

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Hate speech among Turkey's judiciary, Eleni Constantinides

By Eleni Constantinides

Over the past decade we have become witnesses of a despicable type of speech full of hatred and aggression coming out of statesmen and politicians in Turkey. However, that would have been a “drop in the ocean”, if it had not been imprinted on decisions that are directly connected with human lives on a daily basis.

Statements and speeches of government authorities to the media and courts often deliver the verdict before a court’s decision. The usual suspects of course in the political sphere are FETO and PKK related, without excluding minorities and LGBTI people in Turkey, regardless of proof. In fact, Ankara accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, the police and the judiciary.

On the other side, PKK’s resistance in Syria’s war, in which Turkey has been involved since 2011, has driven the relationship between the two parties, to a worse state. In order to refresh our memory, we have to go back to 2008 and to the Ergenekon Trials, when Erdogan first tried to root out anyone even thinking to stand against his plan. 275 people, including military officers, journalists and opposition lawmakers, all alleged members of Ergenekon, a suspected secularist clandestine organization, were accused of plotting against the Turkish government.

The trials resulted in lengthy prison sentences for the majority of the accused. Eventually, these sentences were overturned shortly after. A while later, Turkish authorities admitted that the 2013 Ergenekon trials were based on fabricated evidence and blamed the prosecutors, who were allegedly FETO member soldiers, of trying to purge the military of rival officers.

Things are getting worse

Since then, things started getting worse: the 2013 corruption revelations, one of the biggest scandals in modern Turkish history, turned out to inspire the Gezi Park protests, which Erdogan quelled with an iron fist. This and the 2016 coup attempt were the “last straw”. Thousands of people from all public sectors found themselves ending up in jail. All the above changes, had an effective result to the State’s functioning order which led to a brand new recruitment in the judicial system, as well.

However, these changes made things worse as the newcomers had little professional Commented [EC1]: experience. According to the information given by Can Bursali from The Independent, 45% of the 20.719 judges and DAs’ do not exceed 3 years of experience and the investigators have less than 5 years of seniority. Moreover, 4.500 judges have been investigated as being suspected to be related to the FETO organization, from which 345 of them have been convicted, while 617 cases are still pending.

As an additional note, the number of male DAs’ is six times the females. After the purge of nearly 5.000 judges, Turkey became a country where the rule of law has disappeared and everyone’s most fundamental rights have lost their value.  Meanwhile, several judges, including a former member of the Board of Judges, passed away in prison.

As a result of the massive purge, the Turkish judiciary and law enforcement authorities have become tools in the hands of the Islamist government of President Erdogan. In such an environment, it is highly possible that fear has spread within the judicial system due to the uncertainty and insecurity of their professional or personal future. Lower courts appear to be fearful of enforcing rulings that may upset political authorities, and seek political guidance, either formally or informally.

This very possibility, may be a reason for them to take unfair decisions against innocent people, in order to follow government’s philosophy for obedience and punishment of the enemies of the State. Although worldwide, hate speech may not be uncommon within the political system, in the judiciary body it is a rather unusual phenomenon. Principles of right and wrong, are granted supposedly to the judicial system in order to guarantee the enforcement of rights.

Conspicuous cases of hate speech

In the contrary, when it comes to Turkey, unbelievable phrases are uttered from public servants in court rooms as well as publicly. For instance, Judge Yunus Suer in his biography appears of having shared this quote: “Treason does not end till the date that the heads of traitors are chopped off, and the soil is watered with their bloods”. He was the judge of Ankara’s 8 th Criminal Peace Judgeship.

As the records show, the continuation of a pretrial detention of 345 judges and prosecutors was decided on the 10th November 2016, within a two-page decision, over the pretext of terrorism charges. Turkey’s Criminal Peace Judgeships, formed by the Erdogan Government in 2014, have the authority to decide for the pretrial detention, release or continuation. They can also allow investigations, arrests, and appointment of trustees, as well as examine objections to such decisions.

Another conspicuous case comes from the head of the Judiciary Committee in Konya judge Hasan Ai, who claimed that all convictions against Gulenists has God’s blessing and value similar to the one of an Umrah to Mecca – Medina. As for the case of the Kurds, a number of examples of hate speech have turned into hate crimes in Turkey several times and no prosecutor has so far taken the initiative to stop these statements and crimes, as Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) Istanbul deputy Garo Paylan stated.

“Each hate speech crime going unpunished pushes people targeted by hate speech to the ‘dove’s skittishness’ and lays the ground for hate crimes,” Paylan said on the 9 th July 2015 at a press conference in parliament. “Dove’s skittishness” is a phrase used by slain Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in his final article in his bilingual Agos newspaper, expressing his feeling of being terrorized just days before he was killed on the 19th January 2007.

Turkey targets LGBTI community

Another target of Turkish’s government is the LGBTI community. Not long ago, in a joint statement, the organization requested Turkey to respect, guaranty and protect the fundamental rights of the above community. The statement reads: “The Turkish government has an obligation to protect everyone from hate crime and discrimination, and should not be part of any statements that could encourage hate crimes and target minority groups”.

There have been numerous reports of violations of daily life in Turkey, that have been protected by the members of the judiciary and they have not been punished so far. A recent case in that matter is the case of a man who threatened through social media Selahattin Demirtas’s (HDP’s imprisoned leader) wife. Hours after his apology he was released without any further charges. Unfair judgment also constitutesthe case of the banned left-wing folk music band Grup Yorum.

Reportssay that some of its members have been jailed and the band has been prohibited from performing since 2016 on flimsy allegations. As a result, two of them died recently after been on a hunger strike for over a year. Political pressure on judges and prosecutors and replacement of a large number of judges and prosecutors, aiming to destabilize the judicial system, continue. Therefore, all this continues to have a negative impact on the independence and overall quality and efficiency of the judiciary.

Uncountable cases are brought into the limelight daily, where politicians and judges compete in hate speech and threats. Without any intention of exaggerating, I would personally say that Turkey has become an extensive court room intending to judge everyone who speaks, looks or acts in a different way  of the one that the government indicates.

Manipulating justice is a very serious crime, which usually leads to corruption and finally reduces democracy. By extension, hate speech has spread to the society in further threatening and poisoning individual people’s lives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might think that he is untouchable. However, history has taught us that everything has a price.

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