In remembrance of Turkey's killed judges and lawyers

On March 10, the Turkey Tribunal organised a webinar to discuss the state of judicial independence and access to justice in Turkey. The webinar was like a summit of worldwide renown figures in the area of judiciary. Among them were Diego Garcia Sayan, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Jose Igreja Matos, president of European Association of Judges, and Filipe Marques, president of European Judges for Democracy and Liberty (MEDEL).

The webinar was based on a new report on  “Judicial Independence and Access to Justice in Turkey.'' The report shares facts, especially actions by public authorities, which have occurred in Turkey since 2010 as they relate to the role of the Turkish judiciary, with a special focus on the dramatic decline in the independence of the judiciary after the failed coup attempt of July 2016. 

Leaving the content of the report and what was said by these most prominent and competent voices to the next article, I want to share my views as a witness in this webinar. This witness statement is a humble attempt to shake the EU’s and Council of Europe’s comfort in ignorance towards the catastrophe unfolding in Turkey. 

In this testimony, I attempt to share the feeling of waking up to a Kafkaesque dystopia. This is exactly what I mean by saying “I went to bed a judge, and woke up a terrorist”. Indeed, this was exactly what happened to me and thousands of other colleagues in the wake of the failed putsch.

Since there are incredibly sad stories I witnessed among my fellow colleagues, I preferred to share some of those stories instead of mine. Because I managed to buy the freedom of myself and my children by paying $ 40,000 to smugglers, and have the luxury to speak up. 

This luxury, in my view, brings along the responsibility to voice the illegalities and persecutions to silence each and every dissident in Turkey, not only among my persecuted colleagues, but also among all segments of society, including Kurds, Gülenists, democrats, leftists, LGBT community members, religious and ethnic minorities, etc. 

However, to comply with the context of the report and the webinar, I had to focus on remembering the judges and lawyers who died in prison, on their way to flee to become a refugee, or on hunger strikes after 2016. 

Among the judges who were found dead in their solitary confinement cells were Teoman Gökçe and Seyfettin Yiğit. Maybe, we will never be able to learn how they really died. Mehmet Tosun was another judge who died in a hospital after being released from a long-lasting imprisonment.

Mustafa Erdoğan’s story is particularly a touching one. He was a member of the high court when arrested on bogus and groundless charges. He was arrested in a hospital, right after undergoing a serious brain surgery. Following the arrest decision, he spent his last six months in the arrestee ward of the hospital without being allowed any family visits. Only after the deadly coma he went into was he released on paper. But remained in the same hospital in an unconscious state until he died on the fourth day of his “freedom.” 

Fatma and Nasir Işık were among other colleagues, whose suffering we witnessed. Having been dismissed from their jobs, labelled as terrorists, faced with a years-long jail sentence and their passports cancelled, they had no other option other than fleeing their beloved country in a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately, when the rubber boat they were put in by the human smugglers sank, their two children, three-year old Mahir and three-month old Ibrahim drowned in the cold and dark waters of Aegean Sea on Sept. 27, 2019. Let me ask the question I asked during the webinar, under which circumstances does a mother put her children in a rubber boat in the middle of the sea on an autumn night? 

The famous photo of this young but devastated couple next to the tiny graves of their babies on Chios Island of Greece tells a lot. A young mother and a father mourning by the graves of their newly-buried babies, a shovel used by a father for the hardest task in the world, and shores of Turkey hardly seen in the eastern horizon... 

When it comes to the story of Ebru Timtik, you see a rare example of dedication and struggle for one’s rights even under the most difficult and hopeless situations. Timtik was a lawyer at the age of 42. She was an active member of People’s Law Office (Halkın Hukuk Burosu), a fellow friend of Selçuk Kozağaçlı, who is still in prison for defending the rights of others, as a lawyer should do.

On the days she started her hunger strike to protest the arbitrariness and her resistance, Timtik was aware that the human body cannot survive for a long time without food. But to her, freedom and human rights were more important than bread. Eventually, she died on 238thday of her hunger strike as an arrestee ward of a hospital. She sacrificed herself for something we all need to cry out for - human rights and dignity.

So, all these people, along with hundreds or maybe thousands of others deserve to be remembered and honoured with actions. Otherwise, it would mean we are effectively aligning with the persecutors, not with the persecuted.

 

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.