By TM February 5, 2018
The criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials in politically motivated cases on trumped-up terrorism and coup plotting charges have ruined the lives of some 1 million people in Turkey, a country that is run by fanatical Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has declared war on a civic group popularly known as the Gülen movement.
Even these figures, which relate only to the investigative phase, do not tell the whole story. Bozdağ also revealed the number of cases that have moved into the indictment and trial stages. Accordingly, 88,400 people have been indicted and/or are being tried for alleged links to a terrorist group in 42,930 separate criminal cases against the Gülen movement, with 3,625 people listed as fugitives.
A total of 12,300 people have been indicted and face trial on coup plotting charges in 1,415 criminal cases according to the government. Two hundred twelve people in this category remain at large. Again, in this category, 4,486 people are in pretrial detention, while the rest are subject to judicial supervision.
Although Bozdağ floated a lot of numbers in different stages of the heavily politicized criminal justice process, which is now being used to persecute political opponents, critics and dissidents, he deliberately omitted a key statistic from the tally: the number of people who were jailed during the investigative stages when there was no indictment and no trial.
In fact, it was Bozdağ himself who ordered the staff of the Justice Ministry to stop publishing the daily data on the number of suspects and convicts who were incarcerated in Turkish prisons in 2017. The data had previously been posted on the statistics page of the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP), which is managed by the Justice Ministry. The website was last updated on March 18, 2017, showing 80,482 people in pretrial detention and 108,734 people as convicted and serving time.
Traditionally, people who were in pretrial detention were usually released pending trial during the indictment and trial phases because the evidence did not stand up to scrutiny and fell below the evidentiary threshold. Even with the current state of the judiciary, which is completely subordinated to the whims of the country’s Islamist rulers, the pattern still holds although with a considerable reduction in the number releases. The government figures tell us that the ratio of imprisonment for defendants in the trial stage stands at roughly one-to-three, meaning that one in every three is being tried while incarcerated.
If we are to assume that two out of three who were detained are formally arrested and incarcerated pending indictment and trial, the number of suspects who are in jail would be estimated to be around 143,000. When suspects jailed during the post-investigative stage are added, the total number of defendants imprisoned on links to the Gülen movement would be 167,500. Even this figure sounds conservative. What we still do not know is how many were convicted and moved into a different category for which the government has never provided any figures.
Compounding matters more is the amnesty bill the government rushed through the rubberstamping Turkish Parliament in August 2016 that allowed for the release of 44,000 convicts who were serving time according to data provided to Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, who talked to a representative of the General Directorate of Prisons and Houses of Detention on Nov. 28, 2016 during a visit to Turkey.
With the caution that there may very well be some overlapping cases, 304,608 people who are alleged to have connections to the Gülen movement are currently being put through the criminal justice system in Turkey one way or another on terrorism and/or coup plotting charges. We also do not know about the number of people who were originally named as suspects and detained but freed when prosecutors dropped the charges against them.
We have recently been given a target figure that may indicate how far Erdoğan is willing to go with this witch-hunt. According to a paper issued in October 2017 by the police academy in Turkey after a workshop that was attended by prosecutors, academics, judges and other government officials, it was pointed out that 500,000 suspects from the Gülen movement had been identified by authorities. Participants of the workshop lamented that it was not possible to put all of them in prison because of the lack of the capacity in penal institutions.
If half a million is the target, then the lives of some 2 million people would be destroyed as a result of this relentless crackdown. Perhaps we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in Turkey in terms of this massive crackdown on the Gülen movement, which has borne the brunt of the repressive regime as the main critic of the Erdoğan government.
We certainly lack reliable data here, and the Turkish government tries to downplay the figures. But even the most conservative numbers and estimates based on the available data are beyond anything we could have imagined in Turkey only a few years ago.