An arrest order was issued Thursday night on Ahmet Altan, who was released after almost two weeks in police custody.
Another dark page in the post-coup Turkey was unfolded early Thursday morning, with the Kafkaesque trial of two prominent liberal dissidents.
After being held under murky circumstances in police custody for over 12 days, the author and journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, who is a scholar and a commentator, were under spotlight.
The long night ended with one of them being sent to pretrial detention, while the other released conditionally, with a travel ban.
What we observed after the event was two-fold:
One, given the absurdity of the accusations, nobody any longer will feel safe in Turkey.
Second, there is groiwng belief over something very fishy about the essence of the July 15 coup attempt.
For the monitors of the country, these dark days it is a daily test of how well trained you are to hold your breath. Watching one murky development unfolding after the other adds only to the pile of concerns, approaching to the point of unbearable.
Such day was Wednesday, and the epicenter of the events, once more, was the huge Central Courthouse in Istanbul. Room after room was filled with groups of journalists, standing as accused of ‘criminal acts’ against the government.
In one of them, Erdem Gül, the Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet daily, already sentenced to five years of prison together with its (former) chief editor, Can Dündar for ‘obtaining and revealing state secrets’, stood again as accused this time for ‘deliberately aiding and abetting terrorist organisation without membership’, by publishing news stories on the official secret service trucks that, the story claimed, carried massive amount of weaponry to Jihadist groups in Syria.
A third person was added to the case. He is Enis Berberoğlu, now a main opposition (CHP) deputy (and a former chief editor of daily, Hürriyet), who had some weeks ago come out public and said that it was him who handed the files to Dündar and Gül.
In another, a group of journalists had gathered to witness the trial of their colleagues, who in the name of a solidarity act, stood in as daily ‘symbolique’ chief editors for the pro-Kurdish newspaper, Özgür Gündem, which was shut down a month ago.
This is a case that will continue in a long series, because more than 25 prominent journalists had taken part in that act, now standing accused of ‘aiding and abetting terror’.
A 72-year old veteran journalist, Hasan Cemal, winner of the Harvard’s prestigious Louis Lyons Award, had arrived there with his lawyer, Fikret Ilkiz, in the early hours of the day.
His trial was about ‘insulting the president’, in an article published early this year, titled ‘With Erdoğan, who Breaches the Constitution Every Darn Day…’. For this, he faces a prison sentence between one and four years.
So, it turned out to a bizarre ‘meet and greet’ day for Turkey’s tiny group of brave, dignified journalists. Istanbul’s grand courthouse replacing, ironically, a cafe near Taksim Square or a restaurant at the side of Bosphorus.
‘This is here our workshift takes place’ Erdem Gül said, ironically. Here, today, we see my colleagues working overtime. It should stop. We should be let to do our real job. We should no longer be news subjects ourselves, and get on with covering news.’
Hasan Cemal, who the entire day engaged in covering his younger colleagues’ ordeal, meeting Erdem Gül along with Dilek Dündar, the wife of Can Dündar whose passport was seized by the authorities, was spot-on when he asked in his article:
”How can we have freedom in a country, where courtrooms are overcrowded with journalists?”
It appeared that Wednesday would be a long one. In the afternoon, two others were brought into the same courthouse building, through the backdoors. Brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, two prominent, liberal writers and columnists, whose 12 day-long arrest caused an huge international uproar, with nearly 300 renowned intellectuals from across the world demanding their immediate release.
Both standing accused as ‘attempting to overthrow the government and aiding the terrorist organisation’, their interrogation in the courtroom lasted into early Thursday morning, with their journalist colleagues waiting sleeplessly outside. They could not come in, the doors of the courtroom were locked from the inside, their files classified as secret.
By dawn, it stood clear that Mehmet Altan was detained, while his elder brother, Ahmet, would be released conditionally, under ‘legal supervision’, unable to travel abroad.
Out of the building, responding to questions, Ahmet Altan gave the solid impression of Franz Kafka, commenting on his surreal trial.
‘Here the opinion itself is on trial. One’s opinion and beliefs are being interrogated. They ask; what do you believe? Why? Because they have nothing else to ask…”
”All this so-called justice system, these accusations lead us nowhere. This arrest blocks all serious probe into July 15 coup attempt. An unknown force, for some reason, wants to prevent how this coup attempt was orchestrated. This diversion, I think, aims at covering up the real culprits.
The arrest (of Mehmet Altan) has two goals: One, whoever criticizes the political power are now branded as a putschist. Two, there is no will to get deeper into the coup probe, because there is a fear that it may lead to tracks undesired to be made public.’
‘They may say, you will not criticize us. And we say, we surely will, because we are not afraid of you. I saw what the prison has been and if necessary, I will go in there again.’
”Let me underline for you: Whoever the really responsible for this coup will never be allowed to be revealed. Tonight, it has become completely clear.”
So is also the rule of the game for Turkey’s dissidents:
Once you are in jail, there is no easy way out.
The concern is now also over the fate of Mehmet Altan, who joined 122 other intellectuals and journalists behind the bars.
And, there is no end to the queue of journalists in the courtrooms.
Today it will be three other senior journalists’ turn. Veteran editor Tuğrul Eryılmaz and Nadire Mater, the editor-in-chief of Bianet online, will join Hasan Cemal in Istanbul Grand Courthouse.
Accusation? To have taken part in the solidarity act as ‘symbolique’ editors-for-one-day at Özgür Gündem daily. Needless to say, the punishment for such an act in Turkey is, well prison.