Unfair trial in Turkey

The Podium

Unfair trial in Turkey

By Peter Diamond
August 09, 2013

Last Monday, in Turkey’s notorious Ergenekon trial, 254 of the 275
defendants were convicted of membership in a clandestine terrorist
organization seeking to destabilize Turkey’s government. While Turkey
has a history of military coups, a dirty war against Kurds, and other
illegal activities, this trial had little to do with prosecuting such
real crimes and did not come close to the standards for a fair trial.

As reported, severe sentences were given to some members of the
military, but those convicted also include many civilians. As part of
a human rights mission from the International Human Rights Network of
Academies and Scholarly Societies, I visited Turkey to examine the
cases of eight scientists, engineers and doctors, each indicted in one
or two of four separate trials including this one.

To gather information about the trials, our three-person mission met
with government officials, diplomats, journalists, lawyers, and
academics and read widely. We met with four of these eight where they
were held in high security prisons, and one who had been released on
bail. While depressing, the prisons we visited were not the horrific
places past movies might suggest.

The Ergenekon trial included six of the cases we studied. All six were
convicted, with sentences ranging from 10 to 23 years. Two of the six
had been in prison for four years awaiting completion of this trial.
Another has been in prison for over a year and is awaiting another
trial as well. Five of these six are doctors and have been rectors of
universities. The sixth, a chemical engineer, formerly headed the
council that oversees Turkish universities and has been a Fellow at
Harvard’s Weatherhead Center. None have advocated violence; all are
outspoken secularists, while the government is Islamist. (The six are
Mehmet Haberal, Fatih HilmioÄ?lu, Riza Ferit Bernay, Mustafa Abbas
Yurtkuran, Kemal AlemdaroÄ?lu, and Kemal Gürüz.)

Multiple reports make it clear that the trials do not come close to
international standards for a fair trial. The European Union and the
United Nations have criticized Turkey’s human rights record related to
these trials. The State Department’s 2012 Human Rights Report for
Turkey reported that the `judicial system was politicized and
overburdened and authorities continued to engage in arbitrary arrests,
hold detainees for lengthy and indefinite periods in pretrial
detention and conduct extended trials. The secrecy of investigation
orders also allowed authorities to limit defense access to evidence
and fueled concerns about the effectiveness of judicial protections
for suspects.’

Gareth Jenkins, a widely respected Istanbul-based journalist,
described the trials as `a series of highly controversial judicial
cases targeting opponents of the Islamic conservative movement, which
have been found to suffer from deep flaws, inconsistencies, and
instances of outright fabrication of evidence.’ (Turkey Analyst, vol.
6 no. 3 13 February 2013.) He also referred to them as `characterized
by outlandish claims and numerous abuses of due process. The
indictments against the accused ran to thousands of pages. Yet not
only were they riddled with absurdities and contradictions, they
contained no convincing proof that either the Ergenekon organization
or the coup plot existed. On the contrary, some of the evidence
adduced to support the prosecutors’ claims had clearly been
fabricated.’ (MERIA Journal Volume 15, Number 02 (June 2011).) With
the case for some falsification of evidence being strong, the lack of
fairness includes refusing to allow forensic experts to testify on
that issue.

There appears to be no credible basis on which to conclude that any of
these eight colleagues is guilty of committing the crimes of which
they have been accused. Intimidation of its critics and exaction of
revenge against secularists seem to be the government’s prime reasons
for many of the arrests. The situations faced by these colleagues are
illustrative of very many cases in Turkey that are tried under
antiterrorism legislation.

Turkey is at a crossroads with a country-wide diverse population of
demonstrators protesting over many issues. The government has
responded with widespread arrests. This is happening at a time when
Parliament is proposing to overhaul the constitution and elections are
approaching. Many have been looking to Turkey as a model for a
democracy in a state with a tradition of Islam. But modern Turkey can
hardly lay claim to democratic legitimacy if it persists in perverting
its justice system in pursuit of a transparently political vendetta.

Peter Diamond is an Institute professor emeritus at MIT and a 2010
Nobel laureate in economics; the report is available at