Trial of Academics for Peace in Turkey: My Defence
On January 11, 2016, 1128 academics -including myself, signed a petition named “We will not be accomplices to this crime” aimed at stopping the violence in South-eastern Turkey and solving the Kurdish problem through a peaceful and democratic approach. This petition incurred the wrath of the government and petitioners were individually sued for “making terrorist propaganda” resulting in prison sentences ranging from 15 to 36 months. Later, Supreme Court overturned this verdict citing violations of freedom of thought and in the end all petitioners were acquitted. What follows is the pleading I submitted to the court in the wake of my subsequent 15-month sentencing which was given by the court in April 2019.
TO THE HONORABLE JUDGE OF
ISTANBUL’S 26. HIGH CRIMINAL COURT,
12 DECEMBER 2018
THIS IS MY AFFIDAVIT
towards criminal charges for the case I am being tried for in your court with the indictment number 2018/3565.
I am being tried with the allegation of “making terrorist propaganda” because I have signed the petition named “We will not be accomplices to this crime” with 1128 other academics which was announced to the public on October 11, 2016.
My lawyers will submit their legal assessments regarding this trial separately. As an academic and a citizen working in the field of clinical psychology, I would like to explain some of my thoughts on this indictment.
I would like to restate my final opinion, which I will repeat at the end, at the very beginning: This indictment has neither a legal nor a logical or conscientious basis and it fails to exhibit consistency. It is based on a political view which is purely anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic, authoritarian and statist which violates any reasonable and conscientious standards. It relies on certain assumptions without going through the trouble of providing evidence. In a manner of speaking, the reasoning behind it abolishes all legal and logic codes, as if proclaiming “this is how it is, because I say so.” That is why I find it humiliating to be on trial for such an indictment, and furthermore, I think it deserves to be commemorated as a big disgrace for a state and society which purports to be democratic and just. The indictment includes claims such as “supporting a terrorist organization, making terrorist propaganda” etc. which are totally groundless. I reject them all and that is why I demand an urgent acquittal.
THE REASON WHY I SIGNED THE PETITION
I am a clinical psychologist and a medical doctor. I’ve been in the academia for about 30 years and I am also a psychotherapist. My primary field of expertise is psycho-traumatology, that is how traumatic events affect the individual and the socio-political environment in general and how we can eliminate these effects. I’ve been dealing with these primary concerns and troubles for the last 30 years. I worked in New York for 13 years from 1992 to 2005, and I’ve been working in Istanbul for another 13 years since 2005. During my times in both New York and Istanbul, I worked as an academic researcher as well as a personal psychotherapist with immigrants who had fled from close to 100 different countries and locals of these countries – just like I am continuing to do so now. I’ve written numerous articles and two books on these subjects.
Until now I have listened closely to the pain, screams, struggles and labours of thousands of victims who have been exposed to traumas such as war, terror, torture, rape, incest, domestic violence and their endeavour to reinvent themselves. I’ve tried to help them mend their wounds. I have also provided training for hundreds of psychotherapists so they could conduct similar work. The reason why I am telling all this is because I, and people like me, unfortunately know very well how all forms of violence break the human spirit and how societies made up of damaged people rot and dissolve in vortices of violence. This knowledge is a bitter pill that is not easy to bear and it comes with a great responsibility: to fight for a world that is as peaceful and non-violent as possible. The responsibility to contribute as much as we can to reducing political violence, domestic violence and violence in all forms of interpersonal relationships. So that, at the very least, our children can live in a better country and in a better world.
This is why I have never ever supported, nor can support, any act of violence for any reason -let alone a terrorist organization or act.
When the two basic constituents for becoming of an academician, that is the search for the truth and critical thinking, are added on top of longing for a country and a world without violence, what could be more natural than criticizing a system that produces vortices of violence in Turkey within the framework of my own experience and knowledge? I have defended the same thing in all my studies, conferences, articles and books I have written over the years: As a society, we are traumatized by severe practice of, and exposure to, violence. We will only sink deeper if we keep using more violence. If we want to be a relatively healthy society, we must stop and confront violence and establish a democratic/peaceful common ground. It may be difficult, but we have no other choice. Otherwise, it will be impossible for us to live together as a society.
Wrapped in these solicitudes, I was also closely watching the “Kurdish problem” which has been sucked into a spiral of extreme violence since 1983 and cost the lives of our 40 to 50 thousand citizens. Thanks to the “solution process” or “democratic initiative process” initiated by the prime minister of the time – the current president – and the ministerial cabinet from 2013 to 2015, the armed conflicts and the deaths toll were almost reduced to zero. There were intensive talks between the parties and the society was overwhelmingly in support of this process. I was really glad to see that there might have been a sliver of hope for a democratic and peaceful end to this fight. But at the same time, when I observed similar cases around the world, I became aware that we had serious shortcomings for a genuine and permanent solution in Turkey. The process was being conducted in a highly frail fashion. In my articles I was trying to emphasize that unrealistically high hopes would risk falling into an even worse spiral of violence in case of failure.
As a matter of fact, the vortex of violence restarted in the summer of 2015. The news coming from that region via the press until the end of 2015 was terrifying. It was already bad enough that the two sides had both taken to arms, but this time we were also hit by critical reports from national and international human rights organizations stating that the civilian population in many of these settlements was severely affected by the conflicts and curfews (I am providing a list of, and links to, some of those reports in the appendix to this affidavit). According to the news in the media and these reports, the situation was very dire. The civilian population was deeply ill-treated and if this continued to be the case, the “Kurdish problem” would become intractable.
3-month-old babies were being slaughtered. 10-year-old Cemile Çağırga was shot inside her home and her body was kept in the fridge of her house for three days. 55-year-old Taybet İnan, mother of 11 children, was shot in front of her house, died because no ambulance arrived for 20 hours and no one dared to retrieve the body for burial because they were afraid of being shot. We were shaken by many such news. This meant the creation of new, fresh traumatic memories for the “Kurdish problem” which was already in flames due to thousands of previous such memories. And when traumatic memories accumulate constantly, they create a most favourable environment for the society to decay and dissolve. Peace, trust and the desire to live together erode, and in their place, alienation, separation, and the need for revenge gain strength.
With these thoughts on my mind, I came across a petition on the internet shortly before it was announced to the public on January 11, 2016. It must have been the last days of 2015 or the beginning of 2016. Concerned that the atmosphere of heavy conflict, which was likely to continue, would turn the hopes of living together in Turkey into an even deeper turmoil, I went ahead and signed the petition without obsessing on its general style or some specific words/phrases as they did not contain any element of crime and the main message of the text was concerned with stopping the violence and returning to the peace process.
This petition which was initially signed by 1128 academicians ended up with 2212 signatures. The signees are exceedingly competent in their field of work. Many of them are recognized in international academia for their expertise. I know some of them personally, and the rest thanks to my familiarity with their work. I do not know anyone among them who would be involved in spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization” or receive “instructions” from someone in that direction. Such a claim would be nothing more than an insult to us. On the contrary, all petitioners I know are respected academics who believe in a constitutional state and pluralist democracy and think that the “Kurdish problem” can only be solved by democratic and peaceful means, and not by violence.
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION IS THE VANGUARD OF PLURALISM
According to articles 24, 25 and 26 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to freedom of religion, conscience and conviction and the right to express and disseminate their thoughts and opinions. Again, according to article 90 of the Constitution, the provisions of international treaties on fundamental rights and freedoms have priority and superiority over bylaws.
According to articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party, and articles 18 and 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of religion, conscience, thought and expression.
Freedom of thought and expression is subject to some exceptional restrictions. For example, the article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law No. 3713, which is the referral article for this indictment is as follows:
“Any person who propagates in a way that justifies or praises the methods of force, violence or threat of a terrorist organization, or encourages the use of these methods will be punished with imprisonment for one to five years. If this crime is committed through press and/or publications, the penalty to be imposed will be increased by half.”
If the indictment is based on this article -that is the allegation of the Prosecutor, after all- then let us ask this question: In which sentence or phrase included in the petition in question, are a terrorist organization’s methods of force, violence or threat justified or praised, or else people are encouraged to resort to these methods? The Prosecutor has not been able to present a single piece of evidence in their 14-page indictment that would answer this question, which should actually be the basis of the indictment itself. This situation, of course, is not due to negligence. Because no matter how much we seek for it, it is not possible to find any suggestion within the petition in question.
It is clear that the indictment makes a purely political analysis that it describes as “conjuncture analysis”, which does not abide by any legal standards as it tries to invent evidence based on the harsh tone of the petition. However, in terms of freedom of thought and expression, the standard of the ECHR, which we adhere to and which we accept as superior to national laws, is very clear:
“Freedom of expression is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” [The decision of Handyside v. The United Kingdom (5493/72) was taken on 7.12.176, has been repeated in dozens of cases to date.
Freedom of thought and expression, being one of the main pillars of democratic constitutional states, along with freedom of association is the vanguard of pluralism. So why is pluralism vital?
PLURALISM IS NECESSARY AT EVERY LEVEL FOR EVERYONE AND EVERY SOCIETY
Pluralism is one of the basic conditions for being able to hold on to life, to not disappear and to prosper at biological, psychological and socio-political levels.
Living things can adapt to various living conditions thanks to pluralism manifested in the form of genetic diversity, diversification, evolutionary branching and intra-species diversity on a biological level. If there were no such diversification, life on earth could have ended a long time ago due to changing conditions.
At the psychological level, the more a person becomes aware of their different aspects, and the more they disallow certain aspects to establish tyranny over others, the more they can realize their own potential to be more flexible, resilient to challenging and changing conditions and democratic they become. Allowing pluralism to flourish in our inner world is an imperative condition to become a good person that leads a high quality of life.
Pluralism, in its most familiar and exercised sense, means making room for and respecting ideas as long as they are non-violent on the basis of freedom of thought, expression and association at the socio-political level. It is only by the virtue of this basic democratic standard that social structures can undergo changes without breaking or shaking too much and adapt to new conditions. The lesser the pluralism, the denser/ more solidified a social structure becomes, which diminishes the capacity to adapt to new conditions while increasing the risk of decay/disintegration/breakdown of the society.
When we view the situation from this perspective, it is apparent that the Prosecutor has no respect for democratic pluralism and sees no problem in silencing thousands of academics and labelling them as “terrorists” simply because they criticize certain state or government policies/practices. The reasoning here is quite simple: “There is only one single absolute truth and it is what the state or government says or does today. If you are criticizing these practices, then you are definitely propagating for a terrorist organisation. There is no other possibility. You will be supporting either the state/government policies or the terrorist organizations. All or nothing. Black or white. There is no room for other colours, which translates to no room for pluralism. Love it or leave it.”
It goes without saying but unfortunately, we need to, so let’s say it: this reasoning is completely incorrect. When a person or group of people deems the policies of the state/government to be wrong at one level or another, they may want to criticize it and write a petition to that end or do something else altogether; unless they use methods of violence or encourage the use of it, what we have is nothing more than peaceful opposition. It has nothing to do with “propagating for a terrorist organization.”
It is not wise for a state or society to place peaceful opposition into the “terrorism” mix. Because peaceful opposition is the only guarantee for different fragments of a society to coexist voluntarily on a common ground and heal their wounds. The destruction of peaceful opposition is the most divisive and destructive move that can be taken against a society.
CRITICAL FACTUAL MISTAKES IN THE INDICTMENT
In the indictment (p.2) it is stated that “it is clear that the so-called peace petition is openly propagating for the PKK/KCK Terrorist Organisation.” Since it says “openly”, there should be clear examples of PKK propaganda or their terrorist methods in the petition. Alas, there is no such expression anywhere in the petition.
In the indictment (pp.2-3) there is mention of a press release dated 10 March 2016. There is no element of crime in that press release either, but the Prosecutor has not explained what kind of a connection they have established between the release and myself. That is because there is no connection to be found.
In the indictment (pp. 4-6) it is stated that on 22 December 2015, a PKK/KCK executive named Bese Hozat made some statements which were, in fact, “instructions to the suspects”: 1) I have only heard of Bese Hozat’s name through the press. 2) Taking instructions is against my temperament and all academic principles that I try to adhere to. 3) The prosecutor has to prove the identity of the person who took instructions from Bese Hozat with evidence. I have not been able to see this “proof of instruction” regarding myself or any other signatory anywhere in the indictment.
On page 8 of indictment, we can see the English version of the petition. On page 9, the English version is translated back into Turkish by the Prosecutor or people he assigned for the job. Then, it is claimed that the word “Kurdistan” is mentioned in this re-translated Turkish version. However, in the English version we can see that the word “Kurdish” -meaning “Kurd”, is used, not “Kurdistan”. It is quite thought-provoking to see such manipulation attempts by the prosecution where they try and produce bizarre evidences in the indictment.
On page 11 of the indictment, it is stated that “Bilgi University faculty member Chris Stephenson, supposedly acting with solidarity with his detained colleagues, deliberately arrived at the Istanbul Courthouse with terrorist organization propaganda materials in his bag. He aimed to support the smear campaign against Turkey in international circles.” 1) Chris Stephenson had a lawsuit brought against him for carrying some election bulletins of a constitutional political party in his bag while entering the Courthouse. He was expressly acquitted. 2) What does this incident have to do with this indictment and myself?
On page 11 of the indictment, there is mention of a “second petition” and the “academics who signed it”: 1) Which petition is this? It certainly is not included in the indictment 2) Who are the academics that signed this petition? 3) What does this incident have to with this indictment and myself?
Likewise, on pages 11 and 12 of the indictment, it is stated that some signatory academics carried out acts of solidarity and established “solidarity academies” etc as if this is evidence of a crime. However, in this indictment, which was prepared separately for each, but uniformly for all signatory academics using the “copy-paste” method, there is only one “crime” that is jointly charged to all signatories: “Propagating for a terrorist organization by signing the petition in question.” All other allegations in the indictment, except for the signatures on the petition, are legally irrelevant. If a crime is thought to have been committed in acts of solidarity or solidarity academies, the details about the identities of these persons should be revealed with solid evidence. However, the indictment includes no such thing.
This indictment is based on a number of abstract ascriptions and interpretations, some of which I have written here, with more to follow by my lawyers. There is not a single piece of evidence for the alleged “terrorist organization propaganda.” But still, the lives of hundreds of academics who should instead be conducting research and edifying students, are made miserable by these lawsuits.
All the allegations in the indictment are completely groundless, I reject them all, and demand my urgent acquittal.
Dr. Salih Murat Paker
APPENDIX: EXAMPLES OF REPORTS AND FINDINGS ON CURFEWS AND THEIR IMPACT HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
- UNITED NATIONS, OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, “Turkey: Zeid concerned by actions of security forces and clampdown on media,” Geneva (01.02.2016)
- COUNCIL OF EUROPE, COMMISIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, VISIT TO TURKEY, “Turkey: security trumping human rights, free expression under threat.” Ankara 14.04.2016
- COUNCIL OF EUROPE, EUROPEAN COMMISSION FOR DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW (VENICE COMMISSION), “Turkey – Opinion on the Legal Framework Governing Curfews,” Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 107th Plenary Session (Venice, 10-11 June 2016, Opinion No. 842/2016, CDL-AD (2016) 010 Or.Fr., Strasbourg, 13 June 2016
- HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH “Turkey: State Blocks Probes of Southeast Killings” – 11.07.2016
5. INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, “The Human Cost of the PKK Conflict in Turkey: The Case of Sur” 17.03.2016
6. EUROMED RIGHTS – INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, “High Level Solidarity Mission to Turkey,” 20-24 January 2016
- HAKIKAT ADALET HAFIZA MERKEZI
REPORTS ON CURFEWS IN TURKEY
Curfews between august 16,2015-august 16,2016 and civilians who lost their lives according to the data of human rights foundation of turkey documentation centre
Cizre joint observation report after 79-day curfew
Assessment & forced migration report aftermath the urban armed conflicts in southeast of turkey damage
Cultural heritage damage assessment report on sur, Diyarbakir aftermath of the armed conflict
The report on psychosocial process that women and children in Idil (Sirnak, Turkey) experienced during and after the curfew
Observation Report on The Events in Cizre
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