Turkey's "fight" against the Islamic State (ISIS) continues. On March 24, Turkey released seven suspects who had been arrested in a case involving the Turkish branch of ISIS.
Halis Bayancuk, alleged to be the "Emir," or commander-in-chief, of ISIS, is among the suspects. This was the fourth hearing of the trial known as the "Istanbul ISIS trial." A total of 96 suspects are on trial. Only seven had been jailed; the others had not. Although those seven were released on March 24 at the end of the hearing, their trial is still ongoing; the final verdict has not been given. All of them are now outside jail, free, and living their lives as they wish.
The indictment prepared by the chief public prosecutor's office of Istanbul stated that the suspects
"engaged in the activities of the terrorist organization called DAESH [Arabic acronym of ISIS]. The suspects had sent persons to the conflict zones; they applied pressure, force, violence and threats by using the name of the terrorist organization, and they had provided members and logistic support for the group. Ilyas Aydin, the leader [of the ISIS cell], gave verdicts at a so-called sharia court about killing people."
At the end of the hearing, the seven defendants on trial being ISIS members were released. They left the courtroom shouting "Allahu akbar!" [Allah is the Greatest!"]
This means that all 96 defendants in the ongoing case are walking the streets freely.
Unfortunately, this is not the first case in which the Turkish judiciary has turned a blind eye to ISIS or al Qaeda suspects. The indictment prepared by the prosecutors apparently contains serious accusations and ample evidence, including videos and statements by Bayancuk, also known as Abu Hanzala. In 2014, he was arrested for being the head of the al Qaeda network in Turkey. Some of the accusations directed against him and other al Qaeda suspects were "beheading a Christian priest in Syria, kidnapping a Turkish journalist in Syria and planning an assassination of Barack Obama..."
In a video recording from a camp in Syria, Bayancuk was heard saying: "After we conquer Syria, we will conquer Istanbul, insh'allah, [if Allah wills] and then Turkey."
In 2014, in another video uploaded on YouTube, Bayancuk said:
"They [ISIS] are our Muslim brethren. And we accept any attack against them as an attack against us. ... I am, insh'allah, on the side of my Muslim brothers through my prayers and my support. Whoever attacks our brothers, I consider it an attack against me.
"I ask Allah to reward those in Syria and many other places, who are fighting and striving in the name of jihad, with a state ruled by sharia."
In July 2014, the affiliates of the Islamist magazine "Tawhid" ("Oneness of Allah") -- known to be close to ISIS -- organized a public event in Istanbul where they performed salah (Muslim prayer) together to celebrate the Islamic Ramadan festival.
In July 2015, at a public event was held to celebrate the Ramadan festival, the public prayers were led by Halis Bayancuk who afterwards delivered a speech entitled, "A warning to the heads of the regime of the Republic of Turkey."
"Those who have faith fight for Allah," he said, "the kafirs [infidels], however, fight for those who engage in taghut ["idolatry"].
Bayancuk also called on Muslims not to vote in elections because "Whoever is the Creator has the right to rule. ... "We do not have guns, bombs or action plans to scare you with, but there is Allah with whom we can scare you."
In December, 2015, the German public television consortium, ARD, produced a show documenting the slave trade being conducted by ISIS through a liaison office in the province of Gaziantep in Turkey, near the Syrian border.
Some human rights groups in the region filed a criminal complaint, calling for the prosecutors to investigate the allegations and hold the perpetrators to account. One of them was the Gaziantep branch of the Association of Progressive Women (IKD).
All six people, who allegedly have ties with ISIS and have engaged in the sexual slavery of Yazidi women in Antep, were acquitted during the first hearing.
The IKD Association issued a written statement about the ruling:
"We learned yesterday that all of defendants were acquitted at one hearing, in a double-quick trial on January 15.
"We are not shocked that the defendants have been acquitted. This lawsuit has become one of the hundreds of other lawsuits in our country in which the criminals have been protected even though the evidence against them is obvious.
"The indictment of the prosecutor stated that the office in the footage has been found, and that all of the evidence in the news reports have been seized. Six people were caught in the process of investigation but were released after a judicial hearing. Despite all of the evidence at hand, the court acquitted the defendants on the grounds that there was no evidence."
One cannot know if those allegations were true or not, because no state authority has made any effort to refute the allegations or vindicate themselves.
In December, 2015, two members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) -- Feleknas Uca and Mahmut Togrul -- asked Interior Minister Efkan Ala about the office where ISIS members engage in slavery and sex trade.
Neither the interior minister nor any other government official has made a single statement regarding the motions of the MPs, the footage of the German TV channel or the allegations of the region's human rights groups.
However, when it comes to academics or activists who demand peace with the Kurds and human rights for all in Turkey, the Turkish judiciary takes a completely different stand.
On January 11, 2016, a group of academics and researchers from Turkey and abroad called "Academics for Peace" signed and issued a petition entitled, "We will not be a party to this crime." In it, they criticized the Turkish government for its recent curfews and massacres in Kurdish districts, and demanded an end to violence against Kurds and a return to peace talks.
Since then the 1128 signatories of the declaration have been subjected to sustained attacks and threats from the Turkish government and nationalist groups. Four of the academics are now under arrest.
The jailed academics are Esra Mungan, a lecturer in psychology at Istanbul Bogazici University; Muzaffer Kaya, a lecturer at the Department of Social Services at Istanbul Nisantasi University (who after signing the petition was fired from his job); Kıvanc Ersoy, a mathematics lecturer at Istanbul Mimar Sinan University; and Meral Camci, a lecturer of translation and interpreting studies at Istanbul Yeni Yuzyıl University.
On March 24, the same day when ISIS suspects were released in Istanbul, Academics for Peace issued an open letter about the situation of the arrested academics:
"Yesterday, Esra Mungan was taken to another cell which is smaller, filthier, and stuffier for no valid reason. Also, Muzaffer Kaya and Kıvanc Ersoy were transferred to the Silivri Prison.
"One of our lawyers visited the Silivri Prison. Muzaffer Kaya and Kıvanc Ersoy say that they are strictly segregated, they stay alone in the cells for three people, they are not allowed to see each other or any others; all their books were taken from them with the promise that they would be given back later, their rooms are completely empty except for a pen and a notebook, they were searched naked when they were first taken to Silivri and kept naked for twenty minutes which is an utterly dishonoring situation, and that their first request is to stay together in the same cell."
In Turkey, signatories of the "Academics for Peace" petition (pictured above) have been subjected to sustained attacks and threats from the Turkish government and nationalist groups. Four of the signatories were arrested. Meanwhile, 96 suspected terrorists currently standing trial on charges of belonging to an ISIS cell in Istanbul are not under arrest, and walk the streets freely.
The academic Meral Camci was fired from her job after signing the petition. A warrant was also issued against her -- along with the three other academics -- but she could not be interrogated because she was then outside Turkey. She returned to Turkey on March 30 -- and was arrested the next day.
In the meantime, Kurdish lawyer Eren Keskin, who is also the vice-president of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and the executive editor of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem, has been investigated and banned from traveling abroad on charges of "terrorism propaganda."
Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, the President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), said that Keskin has been one of the key symbols of the human rights struggle in Turkey. "Requesting peace has become a crime in this country. The state of Turkey has committed the gravest rights violations against those who struggle for human rights, against the Kurds and against free thought," Fincanci added.
The gravest human rights violations are committed against Kurds. The Kurdish town of Silopi was under military siege and attacks from December 14 to January 19, when the curfew was partly removed. Many people were murdered by state security forces, and the town has largely been destroyed.
The Diyarbakir Bar Association and several human rights groups recently went to the town to observe what is left of it. Sidar Avsar, a lawyer with the Diyarbakir Bar Association, reported that the police threatened them: "You know how Tahir Elci was killed, don't you?" the police had told him.
Tahir Elci, a leading Kurdish lawyer and the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, was murdered in broad daylight in the city of Diyarbakir on November 28, 2015.
So, in Europe's newest "best friend forever," Turkey, a candidate country for EU membership, those who rape and sell Yazidi women, or have alleged ties with al-Qaeda or ISIS, are set free to walk around with impunity. Belonging to ISIS or trafficking in slavery evidently do not constitute serious crimes in Turkey. But signing petitions calling for peace and non-violence, or requesting political equality for Kurds, are unspeakable offenses. This also demonstrates the tragic fact that Turkey still prefers the Islamic State (ISIS) to Kurds.
Turkey seems bound by traditional misconceptions of what is terrorism and what is not, or who should enjoy free speech and who should not, or be punished for real crimes and who should not.
Turkish politics has therefore not been able to go beyond a clash between assorted Islamists whose worldviews are foreign to democratic values, and non-Islamist but still extremely oppressive political parties that operate under the shadow of a tyrannical military, whose worldview is also foreign to democratic values.
Recent political and judicial developments are further indicators that a third alternative -- a Turkish pro-democracy movement to transform Turkey into a diverse, tolerant and pluralistic society -- is not on the horizon.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is currently based in Washington D.C.