Fusun Erdogan, the founder of Turkish leftist radion station Ozgur Radyo, was arrested in 2006. For two years, she had no idea of what her crime was, then she discovered she was charged with being a member of an illegal organization. Kept in prison while her hearings dragged on for another five years, Fusun was finally convicted on November 4 of “trying to overthrow constitutional order by means of violence” and being members of the leadership of the outlawed Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), which the government regards as a terrorist organization. She was sentenced along with six others to life in prison with no possibility of parole plus 300 years.
Upon learning of the conviction, Reporters Without Borders, calling for an immediate retrial, underlined some of the trial’s flaws:
Key defense requests were ignored. Why did the court always refuse to allow expert examination of the prosecution’s main evidence, documents provided by the police, in order to verify their authenticity? Why were the police unable to support their account of the interrogations, which the defendants disputed?
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, The European Federation of Journalists’ president, summed up Erdogan’s Kakaesque dilemma more succinctly: “This is completely absurd. The verdict is a disgrace to the Turkish judicial system and an expression of the absolute power of the government. It further shows that the regime does not tolerate any criticism.”
Fusun’s egregious treatment is yet another example of the power of Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism legislation, which despite its supposed reform this year continues to equate speech with terror and mete out draconian sentences.
According to Amnesty International’s 2013 human rights report on Turkey,
Unfair trials persisted, particularly in respect of prosecutions under anti-terrorism legislation before Special Heavy Penal Courts. Extended pre-trial detention during protracted trials remained a problem notwithstanding legal changes introduced in July seeking to limit its use. Secret witness statements that could not be challenged were used in court and convictions continued to be issued in cases that lacked reliable and substantive evidence. . . . . Reforms to the Special Heavy Penal Courts passed by the Parliament in July had not been implemented by the end of the year.
Fusun’s trial and sentence may indeed seem absurd, but she is hardly alone. There are literally thousands of persons in Turkish prisons either sentenced or awaiting trial for expressing opinions that the government has decided are dangerous. Nor will this change until Turkish laws finally recognize that unpopular speech is not a crime.