“Crucial to note that only six months ago the government took measure to intimidate non-governmental organizations by introducing new regulations to prevent all kinds of actions and drug trafficking by groups that have material connections with armed groups within the scope of the “Law on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Yet, amidst mounting political and legal pressures, the Turkish civil society still manages to stand against the government’s disclosed and dark relations with mafia figures.”
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Recent developments in Turkish politics show that Turkey’s main problems and the state’s attitude towards them have not changed much over time. Indeed, in addition to these “ancient” problems, there are also some new problems that have emerged in recent years among the issues that came up this week. Principal issue is the state-mafia relations, which we also discussed in our last bulletin. Unfortunately, the silence of the judicial authorities regarding the allegations and disclosures of Sedat Peker still continues. It is thought-provoking that an investigation has not yet been launched against the former and new ministers and other public officials who are under imputation. On the other hand, the legislature has not even opened a “parliamentary investigation”, let alone a “parliamentary inquiry”, regarding these accusations. It is incomprehensible that these revelations, which are scandalous for a state that claims to be a democratic state of law, was not even discussed at the General Assembly of the Parliament.
Moreover, even the President, who is constitutionally in the position of “representing the state”, remains silent in the face of allegations that some public officials acting on his behalf are involved in illegal and even criminal activities. The silence of the President is even staggering considering the fact that those under suspicion in this matter are his colleagues in the past, and some of them are still.
One of the fundamental problems of our country, which has remained unchanged for a long time, is that the protection of freedom of expression on de facto and de jure grounds still suffers from series of violations. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) confirms the defect of Turkey’s record on this issue in almost every case that comes before it. Meanwhile, members of the media are increasingly coming to the fore among those who have had their share of restrictions and pressures on freedom of expression during the AKP rule. As a matter of fact, there are two journalists among the people whom the ECHR found in its latest decisions that their right to freedom of expression were violated by public authorities.
As we have pointed out recently that the polarization in politics has reached at a point that threaten social peace, which stands out as the most disastrous aspect of the AKP rule. As it will be remembered, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party, barely escaped being lynched in an attack that took place in Çubuk district of Ankara two years ago. Now, another opposition leader, IYI Party leader Meral Akşener, was verbally attacked by a group presumed to be pro-government in Rize-İkizdere, where she went to give moral support to the villagers who had been protesting the opening of a new quarry around their village. Akşener was later subjected to a similar attack in Çayeli.
What is more shocking was that President Erdogan, let alone condemning the attack, nearly approved the attack against the IYI Party leader Meral Akşener. This situation has once again revealed the gravity of the partisan polarization among the people, which, to a great extent, caused by imprudent AKP officials.
Attack Against Meral Akşener
IYI Party Chairman Meral Akşener was verbally attacked in the İkizdere district of Rize, where she went to support the villagers who protested against the quarry. A group in the district center accused Akşener of collaborating with terrorism, and a brawl broke out between the group and the party members. Later, the IYI Party delegation, who wanted to enter the area where the villagers were, was not allowed, except for Meral Akşener. Later, an organized group attempted to attack against Akşener, during her visit shopkeepers and craftsmen in Çayeli district, and the security forces pushed the group away from the scene. The leaders of the opposition parties conveyed their wishes to Akşener, and condemned the treatment of Akşener.
President Erdogan, on the other hand, evaluated the events approvingly, let alone he called for easing the tension. At the AK Party group meeting, the President said that “they gave the ‘bride’ a lesson without going too far. They did what should have been done in Çayeli. You tried to cross to Trabzon, got on a plane and came back. These are only good days. There is such a thing as loyalty in this country. If the pledge is not loyalty, this nation will not forgive.”
Fortunately, verbal attack against Akşener during the Eastern Black Sea tour did not turn into a lynching incident. However, in Turkey’s increasingly polarized political atmosphere, we witness an upsurge in verbal as well as physical attacks against opposition party leaders. As a matter of fact, in 2019, there was a lynching attempt against CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu at a martyr’s funeral in Çubuk district of Ankara, and the security forces displayed a passive attitude towards the crowd that surrounded the house where Kılıçdaroğlu took shelter for two hours. Expectedly, President Erdoğan, cabinet members and MHP leader Bahçeli blamed Kılıçdaroğlu for what happened.
It is, indeed, sine qua non for a democratic modern state to ensure the physical security of political parties and party leaders. Law enforcement officers have to take the necessary administrative measures against the attacks that political party leaders may encounter during political campaigns and trips. It goes without saying that the leader of the political party in power must demonstrate the necessary political will for the security of their opponents and should not target opponents by marginalizing them, and most importantly, they must be in solidarity with the politicians who have been attacked. In Turkey, at least in the elite political culture, the physical safety of politicians has been of foremost importance for many years, and attacks were, more often than not, condemned by the elite furiously, regardless of the political position of the targeted leader. In recent years, this consensus has been eroded and the attacks seen as an extension of the political polarization poses a great danger for Turkish democracy.
The Posts of 3070 Prosecutors and Judges were Changed
The Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) published its 2021 summer decree covering 3070 judges and prosecutors. Accordingly, the posts of 2 thousand 582 judges and prosecutors, including the chief prosecutors of 26 provinces in the judicial judiciary, and 88 judges and prosecutors in the administrative judiciary, were changed. It should be noted that the timing of this decree seems to be beyond coincidence. The fact that such a comprehensive decree was made in May before the judicial holiday starts suggests that it is directly related to the fact that the term of office of current HSK members will expire in June 2021. The newly appointed members are elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the President. Seven members elected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey were elected in the first ballot as a result of the compromise between the parties, excluding HDP, and four of the members were elected by the proposal of the People’s Alliance parties (Cumhur İttifakı) and three of them were so by the proposal of the Nation Alliance parties (Millet İttifakı), according to the news. Therefore, it is understood that three of the 13 members of the new Board will consist of members proposed by the opposition parties. However, it is clear that the board, whose term of office will expire soon, issued a comprehensive decree in the middle of the term in a direct purpose to make the appointments that the newly formed board will have to make. This shows that while the government allowed the opposition to have three members in the Council, it aims to render these members dysfunctional as evident by the new decree. On the other hand, the Ministry of Justice, who announced in the Judicial Reform Strategy Document that it will grant “geographical guarantees” to judges within the scope of the activities to be carried out in 2021, has not taken any steps in this direction. Moreover. The fact that the Minister signed a decree that changed the place of duty of 3070 judges and prosecutors as the Chairman of the Board casts doubt on its seriousness.
Indeed, the importance of providing geographical guarantees to judges is necessary in terms of ensuring the independence of the judiciary and securing the right to a fair trial. Replacing one fifth of all judges and prosecutors at once does not only affect the personal situation of judges and prosecutors, but also means that millions of cases are taken away from the judges, who are familiar with the file, and handed over to new judges. This situation not only prolongs the proceedings, but also violates the right of individuals to be tried by a natural judge.
European Court of Human Rights Decides on Turkey’s Violation of Freedom of Expression
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided in a series of applications that Turkey violated the freedom of expression guaranteed in the article no: 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In three different applications, various disciplinary measures and fines imposed by the Disciplinary Board of the Turkish Football Federation, due to the statements made by the athletes, referees or club managers to the media or their social media posts, violated the freedom of expression. The Court found that the national authorities had failed to craft a careful balance between the applicants’ freedom of expression and the public interest. In these applications, the court also decided that the functioning of the Arbitration Board of the Turkish Football Federation violated the right to a fair trial. In another application, the Court ruled that that both the freedom and security rights as well as the freedom of expression of the journalists Mahir Kanaat and Tunca Öğreten, who were arrested on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to their reporting on former Minister of Energy Berat Albayrak’s e-mails published on the Wikileaks site, were violated. The Court ruled that the applicants were arrested for their legitimate journalistic activities and decided that the arrest, which was not based on a reasonable suspicion that they had committed a crime, was unlawful and that there was no legal basis for the interference with the freedom of expression. With this decision, the ECHR ruled for the violation of freedom of expression due to the unlawful detention of journalists for the sixth time in recent months. This shows that there is a systematic problem in the criminal law system.
Call for Justice by NGOs
Sedat Peker, about whom a red notice was issued on the grounds of being leader and member of a criminal organization, continued to set the agenda with his YouTube broadcasts throughout the past month. At the center of Peker’s allegations were the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu and Erkan Yıldırım, son of the former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. The allegations, on the other hand, cover a broad array of issues, such as drug trafficking, government’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, and factionalism within law enforcement.
There are some evaluations about the extent to which it is fair to criticize the government by the so-called unfounded allegations of a mafia leader, who was convicted of being the leader of a criminal organization and fled abroad. However, it should be noted that as soon as Peker’s videos are posted on YouTube, social media users and journalists have tried to confirm the allegations with various means. So far, the odds that some of the allegations might, indeed, be true has increased after Minister Soylu felt obliged to answer the allegations posed against him on a TV channel. Other officials at the center of allegations continue to disclaim Peker’s claims.
Turkish civil society, especially social media users, follow insistently the videos published at 7.30 am every Sunday. The videos exceed5 million views in just a few hours after their release. Although the videos had listed on IMDB are among the most voted productions in the world, IMDB removed this page recently. While the representatives of the parties in the parliament have been quite passive in the process and only confined their political strategy to call the prosecutors to investigate the veracity of the allegations, reactions from the civil society continue to grow at unprecedented level with each video. While the reactions continued, former Minister of Interior Mehmet Ağar, against whom Peker made serious allegations, resigned from the private company he is currently working for. Moreover, journalists Hadi Özışık and Süleyman Özışık were investigated, both of whom were exposed as having affairs with Peker, and Süleyman Özışık articles in the Türkiye Newspaper were terminated.
Among Peker’s allegations, there was a reference to one of the most painful incidents caused by the mafia-state relationship in Turkey in the 1990s. He claimed that former Minister of Interior Mehmet Ağar was one of those who planned to have killed Uğur Mumcu, one of the most important journalists of his time. He also revealed the names that were responsible for the murder of the Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adalı, who was also killed in 1996. These allegations drew a wide range of reaction from non-governmental organizations and journalists. Particularly, non-governmental organizations called for a re-investigation into these murders. However, AKP and its coalition partner MHP rejected the proposal to foundation of a commission in the Parliament to investigate these allegations.
The ruling party is quite disturbed by the revelation of its dirty relations with a mafia boss, with whom the government seemed not to have hesitated to organize an election campaign together in 2015 and even implicitly supported all kinds of hate speech in order to create a climate of fear. As ironic as it is, allegations made by Peker included drug-trafficking, support for armed groups, in which the relatives of high-ranking statesmen and party officials were involved through disclosed dark relations. Crucial to note that only six months ago the government took measure to intimidate non-governmental organizations by introducing new regulations to prevent all kinds of actions and drug trafficking by groups that have material connections with armed groups within the scope of the “Law on the Prevention of the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”. Yet, amidst of mounting political and legal pressures, the Turkish civil society still manage to stand against the government’s disclosed and dark relations with mafia figures. We will follow the consequences of these widespread and unorganized reactions against the high-profile figures that are at the center of the allegations and for the political life of Turkey.
Is this a real growth?
TURKSTAT announced the Economic Confidence Index data on May 28, 2021. The index consists of 5 sub-indices. The sub-indices and their shares are as follows: The consumer, 20 percent; Real Sector, 40 percent; Service Sector, 30 percent; Retail Trade, 5 percent; Construction Sector, 5 percent. As it can be seen, the effect of the real sector, namely the manufacturing industry and the service sector, on the general economic confidence is quite high. According to the announced data, the Economic Confidence Index decreased by 1.3 percent in May from 93.9 to 92.6, compared to the previous month. The distinctive point in this index is that consumer confidence is still very low and unfortunately continues to decline. According to the data, consumer confidence decreased by 3.6 percent compared to the previous month. This reveals that consumers are still not “normalized”.
In addition, according to the growth data announced on May 31, 2021, it is seen that the Turkish economy grew by 7 percent in the first quarter covering January-February-March compared to the same period of the previous year.  So, how were we able to grow so much while economic confidence fell considerably? Actually, this question is basically the same as the following question: “Is this a real growth?” Because we are faced with an increase in inflation that accompanies economic growth.
Annual consumer inflation in April was around 17 percent. However, the increase in the Domestic Producer Price Index, in other words, the annual increase in the cost of the industrial producer was 35.17 percent. In addition, according to the data announced on May 28, 2021, the annual increase in the Service Producer Price Index was 26.26 percent.  Considering that the increase in producer costs will reflect more strongly on consumer inflation in the upcoming period, we can think that the increase in consumer inflation will continue. In the light of all these, we can answer the question of “Is this a real growth?” more easily.
What is meant by “real growth” is a growth process in which the welfare of all actors in the economy increases. When we look at the nominal figures, unfortunately, the growth we see does not show us the whole picture. In particular, the continuation of the increase in inflation completely eliminates the effect of the increase in welfare arising from growth. When we look at the general picture, we see that the industrial sector experienced an increase in exports due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar. This, surely, contributes to the growth of the economy. However, it should be noted that it is getting more and more difficult for the domestic consumer to purchase these goods produced inside. As such, the increase in welfare from economic growth only leads to an improvement in the economic conditions of a certain segment. The fact that the increase in welfare cannot spread to the general population shows itself both in consumer confidence and in the spending composition of citizens. The increase in production due to the low exchange rate does not actually increase our welfare. However, in the economy of a country where democratic institutions operate, there should be more predictable and continuous growth rather than high-speed ups and downs. Only in this way, the welfare produced can have a positive effect on all segments of society.
 Sedat Doğan/Türkiye, no. 48909/14, 18.05.2021, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-210176 ; Naki ve Amed Sportif Faaliyetler Kulübü Derneği/ Türkiye, no. 48924/16, 18.05.2021, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-209957 ; İbrahim Tokmak/Türkiye, no. 54540/16, 18.05.202, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-209958.