“It doesn’t matter whether it is Syria or Medina, I will fight anywhere because I believe in jihad,” suspected terrorist Celil Çelik said in court. Shortly afterwards, on Dec. 15, the Istanbul 27th Criminal Court released him, together with six other suspects implicated in the Istanbul Reina night club attack. The attack was carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2017, leaving 39 people dead and 79 wounded.
Suspected killer Abdulkadir Masharipov was arrested by Istanbul police after the attack and is also standing trial. Unlike the others, Masharipov, who is of Uzbek origin, was ordered to remain in custody at the end of a five-day marathon of court sessions, during which the prosecutor demanded an aggravated life sentence.
To justify releasing the jihadist suspects, the court said the suspects had a permanent address and so were apparently unlikely to try to leave the country.
The ruling raises serious questions about double standards in Turkey’s judicial system. After all, the same court recently ruled to keep four journalists from the center-left daily Cumhuriyet under arrest, while a total of 146 journalists currently languish behind bars, according to figures from the Turkish Journalists’ Association.
Akın Atalay is head of the Cumhuriyet Foundation. Murat Sabuncu is editor-in-chief of the paper. Ahmet Şık is a prominent reporter. Emre İper is a journalist for Cumhuriyet. The indictments accuse all of them of being members of a terrorist organization, and the same justification was recently sent by the Justice Ministry in its defense to the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite the heavy accusations, prosecutors are only using what the suspects have either written or said as evidence in the cases. The same is basically true also for jailed journalists and writers Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Ali Bulaç and Şahin Alpay, some of whom are advanced in age and suffering from health problems.
While all these figures are languishing behind bars, the courts apparently have no problem releasing a suspected jihadist who openly admits his willingness to go to other countries to fight.
The fact that Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş has yet to appear in court after more than a year under arrest is a similar case. His plight is a prime example of rising injustice perception in Turkey.
Other examples comes from intra-Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) politics. Dec. 15 saw the resignation of Necmi Kadıoğlu as the AK Parti’s mayor of Istanbul’s Esenler district. The official statement cited “health problems,” but the name of Kadıoğlu has also appeared in a number of corruption allegations, especially involving lucrative construction projects.
Kadıoğlu is the sixth AK Parti mayor to resign in the last few months. Others include former Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, former Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, and other mayors from the western cities of Bursa and Balıkesir. Their resignations came after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other AK Parti officials called for them to step down.
Not a single court case, investigation or administrative step has been taken against these resigned figures, despite the cancellation of some multi-million dollar projects initiated by them and accusations of corruption by other AK Parti officials.
Much of the public thinks the resigned mayors were allowed to escape legal proceedings in order to give Erdoğan a clean hand in the March 2019 local elections, which are considered a key political bellwether for the November 2019 presidential elections.
So far the Interior Ministry has only acted against main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member Battal Ilgezdi, formerly mayor of Istanbul’s Ataşehir district. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu justified the move by pointing to the number of corruption probes launched against İlgezdi. But almost all of these probes were self-imposed, follow-ups to the “go to court and get acquitted” request from CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Kılıçdaroğlu recently called on prosecutors to investigate his own financial assets and those of his closest relatives, and challenged President Erdoğan to do the same. “I am more courageous than you,” he said, referring to allegations of financial transactions between members of Erdoğan’s family and a business based in the tax haven Isle of Man.
This could be considered as another example of double standards and injustice. There is a reason why almost all opinion polls at present indicate that Turkey’s greatest need is “justice.”