Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Turkey’s newest political prisoners



A Turkish court has confirmed the sentences on more than 200 suspects in a fantastical coup plot. Make no mistake: this is a travesty of justice; the men are in prison not because they plotted a coup or, indeed, did anything against the government, nor because they are anti-religious. Rather, their crime is that they believe in a separation of mosque and state.

What about the charges? That they planned to sow chaos in order to give an excuse for the military to step in and restore order?  In the feverish minds of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s supporters, such conspiracies may make sense. The problem is that the evidence has been so clearly fabricated: The documents seized (what kind of coup plotters write in excruciating detail their step-by-step plans?) are written in Mircrosoft Word 2007, but the plot took place in 2003, when MS Word 2007 didn’t exist. Perhaps Bill Gates was in on it, or perhaps we need to recognize the situation for what it is:

Those former generals, journalists, academicians, and intellectuals who had their sentences confirmed are political prisoners. The Turkish judiciary—now thoroughly dominated by Erdoğan supporters—has become a joke, albeit a tragic one. Many diplomats—including Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States—may privately tell friends and associates he doesn’t like what’s going on, but he is too frightened and careerist to stand up on principle, and the Turkish security forces have effectively become Erdoğan’s Brownshirts.

And while Erdoğan may enjoy his sultan’s power to throw political and intellectual opponents in prison for opposing his whims and while he may rant and rave about imagined coup plots or righting historical wrongs, if Erdoğan wants to see the true coup leader, he need only look in the mirror, because he has led an “autogolpe” not much different than Alberto Fujimori did in Peru 21 years ago.  Fujimori later fled to Japan—my bet is Erdoğan will choose Saudi Arabia as his country of exile—but was subsequently arrested and returned to Peru where he remains in prison. Against the backdrop of unexplained personal enrichment, abuse-of-power, and nepotism, I suspect Erdoğan will end his career in much the same fashion as Fujimori. Until that day, make no mistake: those arrested on the “Balyoz” coup plot are political prisoners, and Erdoğan has become a coup leader no different than those of 1960 or 1980.

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