Overshadowing the graft probe

Lale Kemal
Lale Kemal


Date posted: December 23, 2013

LALE KEMAL

Though the two events — the Gezi Park protests and the high-profile graft investigation — are different in nature, there are many similarities in the way the government has handled both — and in both, its handling has dealt a serious blow to the rule of law.

After the environmentalist protest that started at Gezi Park in İstanbul in May of this year snowballed into a nationwide movement, the government accused what it called international conspirators supported by internal collaborators of being behind the demonstrations against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), in power for more than a decade.

Similarly, in the high-profile anti-graft operation that was launched on Dec. 17 and led to the arrests of the sons of two Cabinet ministers as well as the general manager of state-owned Halkbank and several businessmen last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused “internal and external conspirators” whose ultimate goal was to topple his government of being behind the corruption and bribery scandal.

This is a typical Turkish illness that all decision-makers in this country catch: blaming and slandering foreign powers together with their alleged internal collaborators. In this way, officials seek to save themselves from allegations that they committed crimes by drowning out any investigation. This Turkish paranoia frequently leads rulers to defame Turkish nationals left and right in an attempt, among other things, to justify their own rule.

Turkey’s civilian governments have inherited the concept of internal enemies — who, in turn, must be constantly monitored and defamed — from the military tutelage system now in decline.

Erdoğan’s government has removed around 113 police chiefs from their posts in a major overhaul and issued a decree that dealt a serious blow to judicial independence since the operation, which targeted some members of his inner circle, was initiated on Dec. 17. All these draconian measures taken by the government are intended to prevent the police and judiciary from carrying out criminal investigations without the government’s — i.e., the executive’s — knowledge. We can infer this because the major reshuffle of the police department and the decree on the judiciary came after it was disclosed that neither of the ministers whose sons were arrested were informed about the operation in advance.

As part of measures to quiet the discussion on the investigations into government-related corruption and bribery, last Sunday journalists were banned from entering police stations.

According to Erdoğan, journalists as well as members of the police and judiciary are close collaborators in a campaign he says is waged by international groups — or “dark circles” — bent on smearing his government with corruption allegations.

To support his theory that an international conspiracy against his rule is behind the graft probe, Erdoğan has targeted US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, accusing him of getting involved in provocative actions in the midst of the corruption scandal.

The row with Ricciardone erupted when pro-government media ran reports quoting him as saying in a closed-door meeting with ambassadors from EU countries that they would see the “downfall of an empire” — i.e., Turkey. He was also quoted as saying that he had asked Halkbank, whose general manager was arrested on corruption and bribery charges, to halt its business dealings with Iran, as per United Nations sanctions against the country.

Immediately after the reports, the US Embassy in Ankara posted several messages on its Twitter account saying that the US has no involvement in the ongoing corruption probe, adding, “All allegations in news stories are downright lies and slander.”

The conspiracy theories put forward by the pro-government media center on the fact that one of the targets of the investigation, state-owned Halkbank, has in the past been accused of helping Iran evade sanctions over its nuclear program.

In addition to pointing the finger at “international conspirators,” Erdoğan also said that those behind the investigation were trying to form a “state within the state,” an apparent reference to the Hizmet movement based on the teachings of respected Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

It’s no secret that the Hizmet movement has long been uneasy with the government’s policies on a wide range of issues, including its plan to close prep schools, some of whose owners belong to the movement, as well as the AK Party’s anti-US and anti-Israeli policies.

If, however, the Hizmet movement were seeking to unseat the government in retaliation for its policies, it could have paved the way for the collective resignation of an unknown number of AK Party deputies supportive of the movement. Instead, only deputy Hakan Şükür, once a famous football player, has resigned from the party, releasing a written statement expressing his disapproval of the ruling party’s stance toward the Hizmet movement.

As Hüseyin Gülerce, a senior columnist at the Zaman daily, said, Şükür’s resignation was a warning to the government.

Gülerce did not elaborate on what he meant by the word warning, but I guess he was sending this message: A mass resignation of Hizmet supporters from the AK Party would change all the factors in the political equation before the three upcoming elections — and perhaps even lead to the downfall of the government.

At the end of the day, the government has cast a serious shadow over the corruption and bribery probe by carrying out a massive operation against the police department while trimming the powers of the judiciary as well as striking a blow to press freedoms. It is unacceptable for the government to sack police chiefs who were investigating, among others, the son of the interior minister, who controls the police force.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 23, 2013


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