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Arzu Yildiz: Open Letter to Zuhtu Arslan

I am a journalist who specialized in judicial issues in Turkey for a long time. I suppose you know my name just like the rest of the judicial circles. I do know which Zuhtu Arslan I will address in this letter since I do not know which Zuhtu Arslan will read it, but I would like to address both of them.

 The first Zuhtu Arslan whose books we read is the one who has rare statements such as the following: Difficult times, as referred as extraordinary rule in judiciary, are times in which the state is alarmed against a real or constructed enemy, restrict fundamental rights and freedoms in an effort to fight this enemy and sometimes ally with the civilian or other forces including the judiciary instead of utilizing extraordinary rule only at extraordinary times such as war. This Zuhtu Arslan would easily understand my points. However, the second Zuhtu Arslan who acts against the principles in his books and who used to say difficult times would test if judges are real judges or servants of the government will turn my letter into a piece of paper to be dismissed.

After such disclaimer, I would like to tell you why I am writing such a letter to you. I would like to realize the historical responsibility I have by writing to you no matter which Zuhtu Arslan reads it so that you will not argue that you will have no responsibility when these difficult times are over. Actually, these times you describe as difficult in your books, are not difficult for me. On the contrary, they are the most precious times of my life.

I am not one of the latest targets of the witch-hunt, which is a result of the emergency rule, and decrees that you overlooked while you had the prerogative to end them. That emergency rule led to the imprisonment of babies with their mothers. Under the state of emergency, the government regarded a decision to release detainees as a crime, ignored claims of torture and rape, and ruled for the legality of the imprisonment of elected deputies. I am a female journalist who was able to oppose unlawfulness from the very beginning just like those who defended the supremacy of the rule of law.

I am not going to tell you my story in detail, but the emergency decrees you approved forced me to leave behind my 8 months-old and 6 years old kids. My younger daughter does not know me and I do not know her. My marriage has been shaken by these incidents irrecoverably. Whatever I had in my past, including my identity, they all have been taken away from me. I still feel lucky, because these are precious times for me. I performed my profession –journalism — honorably. I may never see my kids again because of the laws that prevent families from reuniting; I could die in exile or lose loved ones. I could lose everything, but I have not lost my conscience.  That is why I am in peace because I do not remember the faces of people whose lives are ruined when I go to sleep. Even if I am left alone among selfish oppressors and cowards, I know that I will be gone from this world after living an already short life.  My concern has never been a community, a political party, status or money. I could not even claim some of my unpaid salaries from newspapers, including Taraf.

My concern was for justice for all in a country where the weak are sacrificed and the strong enjoy their lives. This is why I survive today and I am determined not to step back. I am going to leave my kids who do not know me an honorable story of a mother who sacrificed her own kids so that children of others would live freely. This is why I call these times precious. Having said that, I have not used my own story for a cause because I am already fighting for a rightful cause: Justice, equality, freedom and democracy. I am writing these to you because you know about private aspects of my life. I never prioritized my own comfort or I have not perceived my family more important than others. With all honesty, I am not rushing to reunite with them. I might not see them again, but I am not one of those who inflicted tremendous pain on innocent people.

I did not abuse my profession. You judges and we journalists are not indebted to anyone, but to the public. We choose our professions with such awareness. We cannot dodge our responsibilities to an office or for the sake of the interests of the oppressors. Thankfully, I did not play any role in decisions that led to the solitary confinement of highest members of the judiciary or the detention of women in hospital rooms just after they deliver babies.

 Once this era is over, I will not put the blame squarely on the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because I think there is nobody who is more responsible than you who are in the very top position within the judiciary in my eyes. You are the reason for that I, and thousands of other mothers are parted from their children, the elderly and the sick. And I will demand your accountability! I will only file complaints about you, but not someone else.

As members of the judiciary, you should have protected our lives, properties, rights, but you did just the opposite. I saw you applauding on the anniversary of the July 15 coup as the government went on a campaign to arrest imagined enemies. You were also on TV screens while harvesting tea leaves with the President and applauding the politicians in Erdogan’s palace.

 I met the jailed judges and prosecutors whose appeals to Constitutional Court you turned down. They were the most honorable people I have ever seen. I also witnessed the delegation of judges in several trials who were judging people without any competency and were consoled by the idea that they hold the most important positions in the world.

 You are occupying a seat that could prevent all these unlawfulness; but you personally enable disasters, deaths, tortures and rapes by means of unlawful verdicts you make. I wish you could have displayed a different stance instead of being the office boy and foot soldier of those who tear apart the constitution.

The irony is all victims hold you responsible while the government also blames you for not knowing your place even though you sacrifice your principles for politics. It seems that you are not disturbed by any of these. You have not seemed to have been affected by a lower court’s decision not to implement a verdict by your Constitutional Court to release imprisoned columnists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay.

I would like to quote from a piece that jailed columnist Ahmet Altan wrote following his father Cetin Altan’s death:

 ¨My dad used to go to bed really late, I did not sleep if I were at home either. When I was 14 years old, we could talk with him until the morning. He would tell me about Hegel, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Feuerbach. He would not get tired of telling about the difference between Marxism and Leninism and different points of views.

These conversations also included stories that I later used in my columns and affected all my life.

-The messenger of Ancient Carthage brings a letter to the Roman Emperor. The emperor threatens to torture him. The messenger puts his hand into a fire in the fireplace and responded: Excuse me, your majesty, what were you saying?

 My father did not comment on these stories, but they were nailed to my mind.  If they threaten you with torture, put your hand in the fire and then talk.

I was amazed when I heard Plautus’s adventures. Plautus rebelled against the emperor and was sentenced to death, but because nobles were not allowed to be touched by the layman at the Roman times, the nobles were placed in a room, given a knife and expected to commit suicide. However, when Plautus was placed in a room alone along with a knife, his family waiting outside did not hear him falling down. Plautus was scared and not able to commit suicide. Then his wife, who was ashamed of his fear went inside, stabbed herself and said ‘Pautus, non dole’ which means ‘Plautus, look it does not hurt.’ The lesson was ingrained in my mind. Do not fear; do not shame anyone with your fear, especially the woman who loves you…”

Ahmet and Mehmet Altan are sons of a father who recommended them to talk after putting their hands in the fire. They will take their place in the golden pages of history. They could have flown in private jets, but they are sons of Cetin Altan! They are aware of the fact that it is more honorable to be in prison than in a plane seat of a ruler who oppresses his people! They learned from their father not to do things they would be ashamed of.

What kind of a legacy will you leave for your children? They will have a future like the past you will inherit to them. Fathers do not inherit offices, but principles and values. Will you be one of those who puts his hand to the fire or buries his head in sand? Is this the kind of legacy you want to inherit to your children?

Don’t you think that you are taking a role in the destruction of rule of law, a state along with your own past, having you lead a critical position to implement the Constitution?

I’m sure you know all these better than I do since the first Zuhtu Arslan who inspired me used to say the following: Fear is a psychological tool for any oppressive politician to legitimize restrictions of freedoms. During the McCarthyism era, the fear of communism led to the loss of jobs, humiliation and imprisonment of hundreds of people.

 Are you going to be one of the witch hunters at a period that is even more brutal than the McCarty era? Are you going to be someone who preaches ethic, principles for an era he did not witness, but acts exactly the same when he is trapped in the conditions he criticized? Whenever I remember your book on the McCarthy era, I cannot help but resemble you to Hitler’s Justice Minister. He also was considered an authority on judicial issues with his liberal ideas, but his life contradicted with his books and he became an important figure of an era in which children were massacred.

 A member of the Court of Appeals in Turkey, Judge Husamettin Ugur who is now in solitary confinement, said the following: Law is a combination of values, those who are without values would not obey the law.

According to Radbruch, if laws openly include injustice, they are void. An unjust verdict is nothing, but a crime tool.

Some examples from Turkey follow as the detention of family members of a suspect who could not be found, confiscation of passports, freezing bank account, 30-day detention period, limited access to lawyers, banning access to books, solitary confinement…

Judges do not always rule based on written laws. That is why it is a position that honorable people with conscious should occupy.

 In countries like Canada and India, there are no written laws. Justice is based on few fundamental principles because there is trust in the conscience of the judges. 

One could argue that in practice Turkey does not have written laws because they are not implemented. Even the international agreements are violated and judges are not allowed to refer to their own conscience. Those who exploit the judgeship title follow the orders of politicians unconditionally and the end results turn out to be not verdicts, but convictions without real and fair trials.

If you were a judge with conscious, you could not even enter the constitutional court building since you sacrificed the very members of the same court for the sake of keeping your office.  You were the one who used to remind of the remark that ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

In his historic defense, Socrates states that the duty of a judge is not to please the people by ruling an expected or desired verdict, but to decide according to rule of law. According to him, a verdict is not a gift or a bounty for one of the parties. Socrates warns the judges who try him and urges them to keep their wow to apply the rule of law.

In Athens, a judge was punished for killing a mockingbird that took refuge in him while escaping from a hawk. Have you ever thought how many mockingbirds you killed? Don’t you feel any responsibility towards those who died while fleeing from Turkey? Why would people flee their home country at the expense of their lives if there is justice in Turkey?

I believe you read more books on law than I did. Are you not influenced by the courage of a woman who sacrificed her kids, a messenger who put his hand in the fire or a father who advises his children to live an honorable life?

 All I wrote above are within the limits of freedom of expression. I also penned this letter to leave it as a historical document once this era is over. I will send the same text to all presidents of the supreme courts in the world, the Venice Commission, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and anywhere I can reach out.

 Believe me, I do not have any fear because you would be scared of the fraction of the flames I walked through, but Zuhtu Arslan who wrote about McCarthy era would have shown the same courage with me. 

Now show the virtue to say stop to all injustices for the sake of the dignity of the judiciary and your uniform! If you cannot do it, join among us who believe in judicial independence and ascendancy of the rule of law. You are not late.

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