Eren Erdem at a June 2016 press conference. (Image source: Eren Erdem video screenshot)
A former deputy of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Eren Erdem, who has been under arrest for seven months on terrorism charges, remains incarcerated -- even though a court ruled on January 7 that he would be released pending trial.
Just before he was to be let out of prison, Istanbul's chief public prosecutor's office objected to his release. A higher court accepted the objection and once again issued a detention warrant against him.
In reaction to Erdem's re-arrest despite the court ruling, his father, Hasan Erdem, said: "I'm talking to the person who is giving the instructions for this. You should know that my son and I are not afraid of you. You will not be able to bring us to our knees."
After these statements, Hasan Erdem, 70, was fired from his job.
Erdem then said on January 28 that he had started a hunger strike to protest his arrest and trial for being a member of "FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization)". "FETÖ", named by the Turkish government after Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, is an organization that Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government accuse of staging the 2016 attempted coup, and often use as an excuse to arrest its critics. Erdem has said there is no evidence that can prove his connection with the organization.
In 2016, Erdem had, in fact, penned a book critical of the ideology and activities of the Gülen movement.
Because of Erdem's hunger strike, an investigation was launched against him on February 1 by the prison administration. Erdem then ended his hunger strike on February 6. A day later, his lawyer, Onur Cingil, wrote on Twitter:
"The court that ruled for [Erdem's] release on January 7 has now decided to continue his detention although no additional evidence has been presented for the file!"
Before being elected as a CHP member of parliament for Istanbul in 2015, Erdem worked as a journalist. He now faces from 8.5-19 years in prison for the alleged offenses of "aiding an armed terrorist organization as a non-member" and "violating the confidentiality of an investigation."
During his tenure as an MP, Erdem exposed ISIS and al-Qaeda activities across Turkey and often called on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to stop those activities and bring the militants to account. For that, he has been subject to pressure, investigations and trials. In 2015, Turkey's president Erdogan condemned Erdem and called him a "traitor". An investigation into treason was launched against Erdem, who also received death threats over social media, with his home address posted by pro-government Twitter users, presumably to enable an attack on his house.
After Erdem's party, the CHP, failed to nominate him as a candidate in the June 2018 parliamentary elections, he lost his parliamentary seat and his immunity. On June 29, he was arrested in Istanbul because of the work that he had done years ago as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Karşı, which, due to economic difficulties, ceased publication in 2014. Erdem has been held in the Silivri Prison ever since.
In July 2018, former CHP MP Yarkadaş said that MPs who asked for the prison's permission to visit Erdem were prevented from doing so. "Erdem is exposed to isolation," Yarkadaş wrote on Twitter. The prison authorities, however, claimed that the reason for their decision is that "the physical conditions of the prison are not suitable".
"On January 7, the court decided to release me by unanimous vote as there is not a single piece of evidence against me.... But upon a telephone [instruction from the president or a government authority], another court, which is irrelevant to my investigation file, had me arrested again due to political reasons... All these things have happened because I am a dissident... My goal is to see the court implement the decision of release it unanimously made and to secure justice for all."
The prosecution and imprisonment of Erdem is a clear example of what has become of the justice system in Turkey. Deputies and journalists who have taken risks to expose terrorist activities to ensure the security of Turkey's citizens are being accused of being terrorists and put behind bars.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.