Farce In Turkey’s Courts: Act Two



By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

ISTANBUL – The turmoil that has swept Turkey since the eruption of
protests in Gezi Park and Taksim Square seems to have reached the
institutions of the judiciary as well. On October 4, the Istanbul
court convened to review the case of Dogan Akhanli, a German-Turkish
author and human rights activist who had been framed on charges of
membership in a subversive political organization and participation
in armed robbery and murder.

In 2010, the same Istanbul court had handed down an acquittal,
clearing him of all charges. Then, the Appeals Court in Ankara called
in Spring 2013 for reversing the acquittal and reopening the case,
so the Istanbul court had to decide whether to confirm its earlier
ruling or lift the acquittal. That was on July 31, and, as reported
in this newspaper (Armenian Mirror-Spectator August 6), the judge
declared the court would issue no decision but rather adjourn to
October 4. It issued an international arrest warrant against Akhanli,
who, it must be stressed, is a German citizen protected by German
law. Now, on October 4, in an uncanny repeat performance, the court
again adjourned, this time to December 20.

The accused, who monitored the proceedings with friends and associates
from his Cologne home, received the news from his lawyers in Istanbul.

His comment was that the court had “decided not to decide” but had
“decided” to maintain the arrest warrant for him and then to postpone
the other “decision.” This, Akhanli noted, only served the purpose of
keeping him out of his native land. As he knows from experience, if
he were to try to enter Turkey under current circumstances, he would
be arrested. That happened to him in August 2010 when he travelled
there in hopes of visiting his dying father. He was apprehended at the
airport, thrown into jail and kept there for months, and prevented
from attending his father’s funeral. Only after his acquittal in
December could he visit Turkey again.

For his part, the novelist declared he did not suffer any such pangs of
indecision: he had made up his mind that he would assert his freedom
from the trial.

In a statement prepared to be read out at the hearing, he wrote
the following:

Following the lifting of my acquittal by the Appeals Court in Ankara,
the case against me has taken on a Kafkaesque character. the very same
court which was unable to find any organization behind the murder
of Hrant Dink accuses me again of being the head of a terrorist
organization – under the alias ‘DOGAN K.’ – and expects me even to
stage manage my “execution” together with the accusers.

As a writer I know the frightening ability to accommodate and the
tragic end of Josef K., the protagonist of Kafka’s novel, The Trial.

For this reason on December 8, 2010, the first day of the trial against
me, I was able with my silence and protected by public solidarity to
flee the Kafkaesque room that the Turkish justice system had walled
up for me.

Now the court wants to use all its power to shut me up again in this
room. I am fight against this with all my strength, I will not go
back. I will face the Turkish justice system with my silence in the
future too. I am not the figure in Kafka’s novel, who at the end of his
“trial” lets himself “voluntarily” be executed with a butcher’s knife,
and yet is again reawakened by every reader to new life.

Different from the figure in the novel I have only one life. And I
do not want to spend this life in a Kafkaesque farce.

I am making my exit. I will no longer appear before the Turkish courts,
not voluntarily, and not by force. I take the liberty that they want
to deprive me of. I will be free, on my own will.

I am doing this also because my case, from the political and human
rights standpoint is one part of numerous unjust cases which are
opened, conducted and ended in Turkey with shrill arbitrariness and
arrogance. With my decision, I know that, in refusing this trial,
I am on the side of those who each in their own way are standing
up against the Turkish justice system, which is the expression of a
hopelessly unjust state.

– Dogan Akhanli

This is, indeed, not the first time the Turkish justice system has
displayed such arbitrariness, and the jails filled with journalists,
writers, dissidents and human rights activists bear testimony to
this fact. What is not clear is the reason why the court continues
to perform the same farce over and again. One reason might be found
in Gezi Park. The AKP government, to be sure, did not hesitate to
deploy violence against demonstrators, and it has come under strong
international censure as a result. Talks with the European Union are
being delayed, as criticism of such anti-democratic police-state
methods is particularly strong in Germany. Prime Minister Erdogan
has just issued a reform package, promising rapid strides along
Turkey’s “irreversible progress towards democracy,” with proposals
to ensure respect for human rights, by easing restrictions on the
use of langauges other than Turkish (i.e. Kurdish), lifting the ban
on headscarves in most public offices and reforming the electoral
system to allow easier access to parliament for smaller parties,
etc. Whether or not the proposals will become reality, whether or
not such a reform would guarantee basic human rights at all are big
questions; but the fact that the government has come forward with
such a package may mean it is feeling the pressure from abroad. In
this situation, if the Istanbul court were to decide to reopen the
case against Akhanli, go through the motions of a trial, pronounce
him guilty and sentence him to life in prison, that could have an
explosive effect both domestically and abroad. The Akhanli case has
already intersected the Gezi Park ferment; the high-level delegation
of observers from Germany who attended the July 31 hearing on his case
linked their defense of Akhanli with their solidarity for the Gezi Park
movement. If the court were to decide the opposite, that is, confirm
its acquittal and drop all charges and arrest warrants against him,
then that could send a shock wave throughout civil society, generating
more optimism and self-confidence among human rights layers that they
can in the end prevail. With its chronic vacillating, the court seems
to be in a state of paralysis – anything but free.

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