On a cold but sunny Tuesday morning, the ground covered with snow, I drove about 80 kilometers to Silivri High Security Prison, as it was my turn to join the vigil for my colleagues being kept there for “crimes” linked with journalism.
It was desolate outside the main gate in the early morning, and the more I sat there, on a single chair, in the cold, the gloomier I felt about the mood that has seized the entire country: an intense feeling of déjà vu of how deeply internalized the hostility is against intellectuals, opinion-makers and journalists by the rulers of Turkey — be they elected or not.
Later, I was joined by Dilek Dündar, who had come to visit his jailed husband, Can Dündar, jailed for printing a story in daily Cumhuriyet, which he edits – and we sat there, talking about the gloom enveloping the country’s oppressed intellectual elite.
Having witnessed the recurring oppression during the 1960s up until now, it became once more clear how “routine” it was for all who came to power in the country to pass on to their successors the immense intolerance, like a baton at a relay race.
In the early hours that day, there was another incident which reminded me of the stories conveyed by Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel, about the days when dissidents in Eastern Europe were mistreated in all possible — some of them funny — ways.
At 5 a.m., five police officers knocked on the doors of an Internet news site, Rotahaber, to give notice for a legal inquiry launched about an article written by Ahmet Altan, former chief editor of daily Taraf. (The notice said the article contained insults and libel directed at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well as “vilifying the Turkish nation”).
There was a slight problem, though: Altan is currently a columnist with another news site, haberdar.com.
So, he was woken up by the editor of Haberdar, Said Sefa, who gave him the news.
Altan was perplexed about the details.
“Something is wrong,” he told Sefa. “You don’t need five officers to deliver such a notice, one is the normal routine.” As he was waiting for clarification, he received another message from Sefa. “Two officers are here at Haberdar offices now, and they left the notice.”
Altan then sent the documents to his lawyer, who soon told him that they stemmed from a prosecutor’s office that did not have the jurisdiction to do so. “They should have come from another district attorney,” he added.
Commenting with profound irony, Altan summarized the incident:
“The address to which they sent the five officers is wrong. My article was not written for Rotahaber. It is the wrong prosecutor. The jurisdiction for the Haberdar site is another prosecutor’s office. The method of sending five officers is wrong. So how come so many mistakes have been committed by the court of law, which should be meticulous in its acts? I take it that they must be frenetic.”
So, we live in a Kafkaesque landscape, a surreal ground covered by loose mines of the authoritarian rule. The more the judiciary is forced to be subordinate to the political authority, the more flawed it becomes.
The fact of the matter, which the latest EU Progress Report fell short of underlining, is that the rule of law, as a majority of experts agree here, has ceased to exist.
This is exactly what Can Dündar on the other side of the prison gate is, article after article, trying to do, to invite the EU circles to be aware of this fact. He made it clear in articles he sent from inside to dailies Die Welt (Germany) and Dagens Nyheter (Sweden).
He made it even clearer in the most recent “written” interview with the UK Guardian, in which he wrote:
“There is always a positive correlation between the increase of criminal activity of the government and the number of imprisoned journalists. So is the case this time. As the number of dirty affairs, corruption, unlawful arms trades and extrajudicial killings go up, the journalists who write or that have the potential to write about these deeds become targets. Their imprisonment is an intimidation to the other journalists. Throw one in [jail] and silence 100.
“We always looked at the EU as an anchor, a model to raise the standard of democracy in Turkey to universal levels, not as leverage to dictatorships. Now, if the EU, in order to stop the influx of refugees by turning our lands into a big concentration camp, agrees to turn a blind eye while Erdoğan spurns democracy, human rights, freedom of press and rule of law, it means that the EU is discarding its founding principles in order to protect its short-term interests.”
Is there anybody out there?