KCK Trial Resumes in Silivri Under Shadow of Hunger Strike


On Monday, October 1st, as Turkey writes its new constitution, a trial will resume at Silivri L Type Prison just outside of Istanbul that could well determine the country’s future. Will it be rule of law under an impartial justice system or courts used as tools to crush opposition under autocratic rule?

I attended every day of the trial this July and observed infringement after infringement of international standards of a fair trial. Never mind that 193 people were being tried at once. The court routinely violated the universally recognized right to an impartial judge by using highly charged language presuming guilt.

Defendants, according to the official indictment, ‘had attempted to hide their true ugly face behind a camouflage of political activity.’ Moreover, many arrests were made on the uneducated guesses of police informants later proven wrong. ‘I saw a picture on his wall I think was a terrorist’ said one informant. The accusation led to many arrests, though the picture later turned out to be that of a journalist Musa Anter, murdered in the 90’s by a government-hired assassin. Nevertheless, the court admitted the statement as evidence over vehement protests. Furthermore, defendants were forbidden to defend themselves in Kurdish, despite the fact that some of them have only a rudimentary grasp of the Turkish language. Segments of anonymous testimony by uneducated blue collar witnesses were suspiciously written in the bureaucratic legalese of the public prosecutor. Hearsay, anonymous witnesses and circumstantial evidence were routinely admitted.

When defense lawyers objected to these violations, the court answered by calling in heavily armed riot police to form a cordon around them, truncheons drawn and ready.

As the next phase of the trial approaches, 10 of the 99 defendants in the men’s section of Silivri’s Prison have begun a hunger strike to protest the trial. On September 25th, they submitted a written declaration of their intentions to the prison authorities so that the government could not claim ignorance should anything happen to them later on. Shortly after beginning the strike, according to prisoners, about 40 to 50 guards and policeman in full riot gear assembled outside the ward, among them the vice warden and the captain of the guards. They entered the cells with intentions of removing the hunger strikers to isolated cells. The other prisoners attempted to stop them—fearing that there would be no one to properly take care of the strikers should they be isolated. Police and guards responded with violence. The prisoners say everyone was beaten. The ten hunger strikers and two other inmates were whisked away and have not been seen again. The other prisoners are concerned that they are not being properly taken care of because none of their belongings have been removed from their old cells.

As the hunger strike continues in Silivri, more and more people are arrested every week—journalists, anthropologists, writers, academics and elected officials of the BDP. The United States State Department in a report made last year placed the number of people imprisoned at 3,895. Since then hundreds more have been taken in police round ups all around the country.

The KCK case is merely one in a series of show trials against all sources of opposition to the government. The military, ideologically opposed to the ruling party’s more Islamic tendencies, were convicted this September in the Balyoz case, despite the fact that American, German and Turkish forensic scientists declared the main evidence used in the trial fraudulent. Many feel that the end of this trial will be a model for the end of the KCK case.

This is the atmosphere under which a new constitution is being forged, one which will guide the country far into the foreseeable future. Is this witch trial mentality what will be enshrined in the country’s highest law?

This is not a third world dictatorship but a NATO ally whose actions reflect on allies like the United States. Brilliant PR work and a healthy economy help to steer attention away from the ruling party’s increasingly autocratic policies, and the AKP continues to choke all critical voices in the press and elsewhere with trials, threats, and intimidation. From Bagdad to Cairo to Beirut, Turkey is a country that the entire Middle East looks up to as an example. Travelers in the region report widespread admiration for Erdogan and Turkish democracy. Is this the model we want the region to follow?