Bloomberg News

Turkish Trial Sparks Protest Charging Erdogan With Court Bias

December 10, 2011

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish lawmakers and activists are protesting a trial they say shows Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is politicizing the judiciary to silence dissent.

Hundreds demonstrated under snowfall outside the main courthouse in Ankara as it began hearing the case of 28 people charged with offenses including membership of a terrorist group and harming state property. The defendants were protesting against the death of a retired teacher at an Erdogan election rally in May, saying it was caused by excessive police violence.

Protests began in the northwestern city of Bursa and Trabzon in the northeast earlier this week, with students cutting their hair in a gesture of solidarity with a jailed activist who had his head shaved in prison. Lawmakers Safak Pavey, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party or CHP, and Sirri Sureyya Onder from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party have cut their hair to signal support. Several other parliamentarians attended the trial.

Opposition parties are accusing the judiciary of implementing a government crackdown on dissent that uses anti- terrorism laws to raid pro-Kurdish politicians, arrest student protesters and imprison people over alleged coup plots without charging them. The prosecution is seeking prison terms of as long as 42 years and six months for the defendants in today’s trial, Hurriyet newspaper reported, citing the indictment.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is turning Turkey into an “open prison,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, CHP’s deputy chairman. “The AKP doesn’t let any protest against itself go unpunished,” he said yesterday in a statement posted on the party’s website.

Bullhorns, Banned Books

The government rejects the accusation. Turkey now follows the principle of separation of powers, in contrast to past administrations by parties including the CHP that left courts “under the hegemony of political powers,” Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik said Nov. 30.

Prosecutors said criminal items and evidence found on the defendants include umbrellas, bullhorns, banned books, posters of leftist Turkish revolutionaries executed in the 1970s and checkered Arab headscarves known as keffieh, Hurriyet said.

Their protest followed the death of Metin Lokumcu after police assaulted demonstrators with pepper spray during Erdogan’s rally in the Black Sea town of Hopa before the June 12 elections. Security forces said the premier’s bus was attacked.

--Editors: Ben Holland, Alan Crawford.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emre Peker in Ankara at epeker2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden in Dubai at barden@bloomberg.net.


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