A slaughterhouse for the law
”I am not threatening Erdoğan, I am warning him. I tell him not to wish for civil war. I am saying the same thing today. Civil war is terrifying. Is it a crime to say this?”
Ahmet Altan (born 1950) is a Turkish journalist and best selling author. In addition to having written columns in several Turkish newspapers, including Hürriyet, Milliyet and Radikal, Altan has produced news programming for television.
In 2007 he became the founding editor in chief and lead columnist of Taraf, a daily Turkish newspaper, and remained in the position until his resignation in December 2012.
In September 2008 when Altan published an article titled "Oh, My Brother" dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, he was charged under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for "denigrating Turkishness".
On December 2012, Ahmet Altan, who was founding editor-in-chief of the daily Taraf since 2007, resigned from his post. During Turkey's media purge after the failed July 2016 coup d'état on September 23, 2016, Altan, was arrested. He is accused of sending "subliminal messages" to encourage 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt planners.
The first hearing of Altan’s trial was held on June 19-23 at Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, at the end of which the judges ruled to keep him and five other imprisoned defendants in jail. The second hearing of the trial was on September 19, 2017 and despite another powerful statement from Altan, who challenged the judge to show concrete evidence to prove his guilt, nothing changed. Altan has been in prison since September 23, 2016.
The full text version of Altan’s defense statement, which he presented to the court from prison via video conferencing system, can be read here:
It is translated from Turkish into English by Yasemin Congar, General Director P24 (Platform for Independent Journalism)
Below we present very short version, edited by Elisabeth Åsbrink, with the kind permission of Yasemin Congar.
Ahmed Altan is currently held at İstanbul Silivri Prison No. 9.
This sorry excuse for an indictment lacking in not only intelligence but also a respect for law is too feeble to draw the immense weight of the aggravated life sentence it requests and does not deserve a serious defence.
However, reading this indictment’s lies about me helped me to better understand what a massacre of the law the thousands of people who have been imprisoned since 15 July have been subjected to.
Since I cannot be the only person who has been lied about, we may well assume that such untruthful indictments have crawled across and strangled the whole of the judiciary like poison ivy.
The recklessness of the prosecutor who authored this untruthful and nonsensical indictment proves this has become a habit of the justice system.
When you read this indictment you can easily see that places like this edifice that we call a Palace of Justice – a place with defendants, defendants’ chairs, armed members of the gendarmerie, judges’ podiums and cloaks – have been turned into a slaughterhouse for the law.
I am certainly well aware that we live in an era of shame and tyranny in which people released by the court are arrested again as soon as they step out of the door of that very courtroom, that I am both witnessing and being accused by this tyranny which has attempted a massacre of the law in the hands of lawyers.
But I believe in the Latin proverb that the law sometimes sleeps, but never dies. I know the rule of law which has been shot, wounded, is bleeding and comatose, will eventually heal and make its comeback.
The politicians and lawyers who are nowadays at the helm in Turkey may think only about the present day and assume – like the generals of the February 28 coup – that this day will last “a thousand years.” But I know tomorrow is coming; it always does.
Therefore, I will shred this so-called indictment, this rootless and baseless text into pieces in order to leave a document for the days when oppression will be over and the law will be back. All that I will tell you here I will tell with the intention to present you with a counter-indictment.
Now let us turn to these sheets of legal anomaly – this so-called indictment.
What does the indictment say?
Aside from a few of my columns and a single TV appearance, this indictment bases our “putschism” on this claim:
We are said to know the men who are alleged to know the men who are alleged to have directed the coup.
First, let me ask this:
How can “knowing” someone be accepted as the evidence of a crime?
If you know a criminal does that make you a criminal, too?
If your neighbour is tried for counterfeiting will you also be tried for counterfeiting because you know him?
And if your neighbour divorced his wife will you also be considered divorced from your wife because you know your neighbour? Shouldn’t you have done the act yourself or participated in it to be accused of that act, to be held responsible for it?
What is the alleged crime that is at the root of this indictment?
When was that crime committed?
On 15 July 2016.
When did I quit journalism?
Can news reports that were published at least 4 years before the date of the crime provide the proof of that crime?
At no time in its life, did Taraf newspaper “continuously publish content that was favourable to the Cemaat.” Even if it had, this would not have been a crime.
If the prosecutor wants to look at content and rhetoric that were “continuously favourable to the organisation,” he will have to turn his gaze to the AKP.
He will have to look at Tayyip Erdoğan who expressed his “fondness” for Fethullah Gülen in a meeting organised by the Cemaat.
He will have to look at the current Minister of Justice who defended Gülen from the rostrum at the parliament, moving Heaven and Earth.
They are the ones who always defended the Cemaat.
If this is a crime why aren’t they under arrest?
If this is not a crime what is it doing in its indictment?
Now let us turn to slightly more serious matters.
Let’s first start with this Sledgehammer issue. [Operation Sledgehammer is the name of an alleged Turkish secularist military coup plan dating back to 2003, in response to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gaining office, editors comment.]
What is the crime described by the prosecutor?
This is the crime: Purging the officers who were not members of the organisation, replacing them by the members of the organisation and laying the groundwork for the coup.
The prosecutor places a very interesting word into this description of a crime: “In the process,” he says. Which process is this? Is he talking about the six year “process” between 2010 and 2016?
The crime was committed during this 6 year “process”. During this 6-year process, the “culprits” purged some soldiers and appointed some soldiers thus laying the groundwork for the 15 July coup.
The prosecutor puts this question in front of us, a question begging for a response: Who committed this crime in this 6-year process?
With a mind-boggling “naiveté”, the prosecutor says that I committed this crime.
He gives an unintelligent answer to an intelligent question, but the absurdity of the answer does not erase the burning question.
I published the news stories about the Sledgehammer coup.
The sole responsibility of the publication of those stories is mine.
I was the managing editor of that newspaper and no one else but me could have decided to publish those stories. Later, I will answer the question of whether publishing those stories was a crime or not. But first, let’s find who the “culprit” is in the purges and promotions which the prosecutor says were carried out during the “6 year period.”
Allow me to ask a question first.
Does a news story published in 2010 give a newspaper the ability to carry out all of the military purges, appointments and promotions that took place during this 6-year process?
Can I decide on all the appointments and promotions that took place until 2016 because I published a story in 2010?
Better yet, can I do all this by quitting journalism in 2012?
No matter how devilish a mind, how strategic a wiz, how pernicious an ill will he has no one alone can determine a 6-year process. A journalist above all cannot do this.
For so many appointments, promotions and purges to be carried out during a 6-year process people with large authoritative powers within the State should work in an organised manner.
So, who worked in this organised manner during the 6-year process?
The answer is not difficult to come up with.
The answer is crystal clear.
Whoever has their signature on those appointment and promotion papers did this work.
Is my signature there under any of those decisions of appointment and promotion?
No, it is not.
So, whose signature is there?
There are the signatures of the chiefs of staff, of the members of the Supreme Military Council, of the members of the government, of the prime ministers and of the presidents who served during this “process.”
And there is only one signature that never changed during this 6-year process.
The signature of Tayyip Erdoğan, first as the prime minister and then as the president.
The prosecutor describes the crime, tells us that the crime was committed during a “process,” points at who the culprits are, then turns around and demands that I should be punished.
I am in jail not because I am a criminal. I am in jail because the criminals’ rule of law is in power.
Such things happen.
You get thrown in jail because you defend the law and because you are right.
And the culprit can disguise himself as a prosecutor.
But no one should be afraid or alarmed.
This will not last very long.
The law will wake up one day.
These are your times.
But times change, times always change.
The problem of the powerful and the despotic is that they can never grasp this fact.
The generals of the 28 February also thought 28 February would last a thousand years.
The prosecutors serving those generals also threw people in jail.
Then, too, we used to say: “It cannot go on like this, don’t violate the law, return to the rule of law.”
I was put on trial many times for saying so.
Did it last?
It did not last. It could not last.
Today’s despotism, oppression, wrongdoings, unlawfulness cannot last either.
Oppressive regimes are like matchsticks. While burning everything down to ashes they also catch their own fire and get consumed in it.
Because there are important ties between the economy and the rule of law.
As you increase oppression and strangle the rule of law the country loses its credibility.
In the countries where there is no rule of law and no credibility, domestic and foreign investments stop. The economy starts going down. Inflation and unemployment surge out of control.
People cannot give their kids a single meatball to eat, they cannot buy them bananas.
Their kids’ silent longing as they gaze at the restaurants, patisseries, fruit sellers make them suffer and feel ashamed.
At the end, they cannot bear their kids’ hungry gaze anymore and vote out those politicians who caused all this.
This is exactly what this country is going through today. As they keep throwing people like us in jail they are destroying the rule of law and making the economy collapse.
The Council of Europe put Turkey back on “monitoring” for the first time since 2004. They treat today’s Turkey as they treated the Turkey of the military coup era, because the current political rulers have assumed the despotism of the putschist officers.
For this country, the cost of distancing itself from European values will be turning into an economic hell. Unemployment, prices, helplessness, starvation will surge.
Do you think the government can last under such circumstances?
You will see that it won’t last, it cannot last.
Throwing us in jail and writing indictments filled with lies won’t be enough to save this government.
While lighting Turkey on fire, this government has also caught its own flame.
Day by day it is being consumed in its own fire.
We warned them many times about lighting both themselves and the country on fire. We are still warning them.
Their response has been to send their prosecutors and policemen over to throw us in jail.
Does telling them to return to the rule of law and stop the despotism constitute putschism?
This is merely the pitiful helplessness of a government that can no more stand any kind of criticism.
As they burned the country they also burned themselves so badly that they are covered all over with oozing wounds.
As soon as the slightest bit of criticism touches their skin they hurt madly, cannot respond, and send their policemen and prosecutors over.
Our adventure today boils down to this helplessness.
Not the helplessness of those in jail, but the helplessness of those who threw them there.
The prosecutor accuses us with “threatening and using insultlike rhetoric against President Erdoğan and members of the government” on the |TV] show.
Excuse the composition of that sentence. The prosecutor cannot use his mother tongue very well. Is it not really very cute for him to think that we have the power to threaten Erdoğan and the government?
Those men have chucked us out of our homes and thrown us in jail and the prosecutor says: “they are threatening Erdoğan.”
How am I threatening Erdoğan?
By saying, “there is the law”?
By saying, “you will lose the elections if you keep going on like this”?
How am I threatening?
If they really think I have the kind of power to be able to threaten them, if they are so afraid of me, I must say I would find that quite entertaining.
And I don’t think there would be anyone out there who wouldn’t find that entertaining.
I also loved that phrase “insultlike rhetoric”.
What does “insultlike” mean, Your Honour?
Where in the law do we find this concept?
If I insulted anyone, he should have used the word “insult” and there is a certain article in the criminal law that regulates that. It doesn’t have anything to do with putschism.
He doesn’t use the word “insult”. Clearly, he too sees that I am not insulting anyone.
But, does “insultlike” mean harshly critical?
Criticism is not a crime.
So what does this word mean, “insultlike”?
The prosecutor’s mind seems to have become terribly confused as he was trying hard to make up a crime.
Then he says: “they say the acts and affairs of this government are against the law.”
We are reported to be saying that this government is doing things against the law.
Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.
Is it a crime to criticise a government because it is doing things that are against the law? Is it a crime to warn them by saying: “don’t do this”?
Is this putschism?
Shouldn’t we warn the government?
The prosecutor says: “don’t warn, don’t criticise, don’t talk.”
The prosecutor has no right to say this.
My criticism of the government’s unlawful affairs is none of the prosecutor’s business.
His job is to watch out for the unlawful affairs of the government, to investigate them and to open a case when he has evidence. You wish he would have that kind of courage…
He does not go after the unlawful acts, but he goes after the ones who criticise those acts. A typical AKP-era prosecutor!
He says: “they say this government will soon lose its hold on power.”
Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.
I also think they will lose the first presidential elections.
It is not a crime that political power will change hands. It would be problematic however to say that no matter what happens a government will always stay in place.
Governments come and go.
This is politics. This is democracy.
We have now come to the best part.
We are supposed to have said that the AKP government would lose its hold on power in Turkey and “thereby as part of that rhetoric, to have declared that there was going to be a coup.”
It is supposed to have been impossible for us to know about the coup attempt without being in mental and operational unity with the terror organisation. Our objective is supposed to have been the legitimisation of the coup attempt.
And with that, the prosecutor removes his mask and spills the beans.
After pages and pages of empty words and gibberish this prosecutor finally says what he wants to say in the paragraph I just read to you.
But which of my sentences does he show as the proof of our alleged foreknowledge that there was going to be a coup on 15 July and that “we were in a unity of ideas and action” with the putschists?
That I am supposed to have said, “The AKP government will lose its hold on power in Turkey.”
That is exactly what I think.
How is it a proof of that we are in “unity of action” with the putschists to say that a political party will be removed from power?
I asked before, I am asking again:
What does this prosecutor think? That the AKP will be never removed from power?
What does he base his thinking on?
The economy has turned into hell, tourism collapsed, lack of trust in the rule of law is at record levels. What is the basis to his thinking that this political government will be never removed from power in this country?
According to this prosecutor, can the AKP not be voted out of power? Why wouldn’t it be voted out?
Before he accuses us of putschism, the prosecutor should first explain this. On what information does he base his claim that the AKP will be never removed from power?
On what information does he base his allegation that everyone who says the AKP will be removed from power is a putschist?
Have the AKP leaders said, “they would never be voted out” and made the prosecutor believe that? What is it? Someone should explain to me the reasons behind this prosecutor’s meaningless and baseless allegations.
Look, I will repeat once more, it is not a crime to say that a political government will be removed from power. It is criminal to say it will not.
Your Honour, there is no freedom of thought in this country.
Even my being on trial here in this court is sufficient proof that there is no freedom of thought.
Over 160 journalists of all stripes – leftists, Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, conservatives – are in prison today.
What is the common feature of all these people with such different viewpoints?
That they all oppose the AKP.
This simple fact by itself demonstrates what kind of state freedom of expression and the rule of law are in this country today.
The whole world sees this fact.
The prosecutor who claims that there is freedom of thought in Turkey has also included three of my columns in the indictment in order to accuse me with putschism.
There is freedom of thought, but newspaper columns are deemed tantamount to putschism.
Don’t you love this version of freedom of thought!
In a column with the title “Absolute Fear,” I said that Erdoğan disobeyed the Constitution and violated all kinds of laws. That he was a dictator who took under his control the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, and that he was nearing the end of his political life.
This is what I wrote: “I think we are watching the final act of a lousy play. We have paid a heavy price but it is still good to know that it will be over soon.”
I completely agree with myself.
Erdoğan has violated the Constitution by declaring himself the de facto president [with the powers of a presidential system] and saying that he did not recognize the rulings of the Constitutional Court.
He is also the one who has talked about gathering all the powers in a single hand. A politician who gathers all the powers in a single hand is called a dictator.
My column is said to have coincided with a certain Osman Özsoy’s “threats” against Erdoğan. I couldn’t quite get what he is saying in his confused Turkish, but I assume that is what he is trying to say.
I don’t know who Osman Özsoy is.
I have no idea whether he threatened Erdoğan or not.
But how can I be accused for someone else’s words?
Our prosecutor flies away like a runaway kite. He alleges that someone said something and puts that in an indictment against me.
Using the words allegedly said by someone whom I have never heard of, he attempts to prove I am guilty.
I am not threatening Erdoğan, I am warning him. I tell him not to wish for civil war.
I am saying the same thing today.
Civil war is terrifying.
Is it a crime to say this?
My third column has the title, “Montezuma”.
I am reported to have said that Erdoğan was taken captive by the nationalists who want military tutelage to be back in place.
Yes, I said so.
I am saying this also today.
Nationalists have themselves said that they shaped Erdoğan’s Russia and Syria policies and acted as go-betweens.
What does pointing this out have to do with putschism?
The prosecutor always ends up arriving at the same conclusion.
He says that: “criticising Erdoğan is putschism.”
And to that I say: “No”.
Criticising a politician is not putschism. Erdoğan is a politician – a politician who has made far too many mistakes in the last five years.
Of course he will be criticised.
As a result of these wrong policies, the country is collapsing before our eyes.
What would we criticise if we don’t criticise this?
The prosecutor is not acting like a prosecutor.
He is acting as a spokesman for censorship. He is abusing his authority by assuming the role of a politician’s enforcer and threatening everyone.
This is the summary of this indictment and all the lies therein.
These are the answers I will give to the untruthful accusations in this indictment.
The sole objective of this untruthful indictment, which fails to present us with even a speck of evidence, is to frighten and silence the people.
In none of the mature democracies of the world can people be thrown in jail and put on trial with such accusations.
It is the shame of this country and its judiciary that we have been thrown in jail and put on trial merely for our thoughts and criticism.
I don’t trust the present day justice system – a system that arrests people without reason and tries them with untruthful indictments.
Therefore, I don’t have any requests either.
Your ruling will not have anything to do with me.
In one of his novels, John Fowles says that all the judges in the world are judged by their own decisions.
It is true.
All judges are judged by their own decisions.
You, too, will be judged by your own decisions.
However you want to be judged, whatever kind of verdict you would like for yourself, however you would like to be remembered, judge accordingly.
Because you are the one who will be judged.
Thank you for your time and patience.