Tue, Jul 26, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Turkish president’s probe into coup deepens as schools shut

Relatives wait anxiously for news as Turkey’s justice system struggles to keep up with the detention of thousands of military personnel after a failed coup

By Constanze Letsch  /  The Observer

In the marble corridors of the Istanbul Palace of Justice, dozens of people press against a metal barrier in the hope of catching a glimpse of a family member — a son, husband or brother — detained in the aftermath of the bloody coup attempt.

As a file of handcuffed soldiers is led in, the crowd surges forward. One woman shouts the name of her brother before he vanishes behind a courtroom door. When a lawyer makes her way toward the crowd, she is immediately surrounded and showered with questions: Will there be a decision? Who was detained and who released?

Since the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 that left at least 265 people dead and more than 1,000 wounded, tens of thousands of military personnel, judges, prosecutors and civil servants have been detained or suspended from their jobs as part of the investigation into possible plotters. The Turkish government immediately fingered US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a long-time ally of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan now turned foe, as the mastermind of the attempted military takeover.

Analysts have said that a coalition of several factions in the army is a more likely scenario, underlining that many questions concerning the failed military intervention remain to be answered. However, many are concerned about the massive purge launched last week and warn that the right to a fair trial is increasingly in peril as a result.

Late on Wednesday evening Erdogan announced a three-month state of emergency, enabling him and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Cabinet to bypass parliament, rule via decree, and suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.

The first decree — implemented on Saturday — extended pre-charge detention from four to 30 days and ordered the closure of more than 2,000 private schools, associations, foundations, unions, health institutions and universities.

“The coup attempt did a lot of damage to the democratic opposition in Turkey,” a human rights lawyer said. “This could have been a chance for Turkey to overcome polarization and violence, to finally democratize the country, but instead it is used as a pretext for Erdogan to galvanize power.”

Emine and Ahmet Yildiz have traveled about 400km from their small hometown to Istanbul. For four days they have waited in the stone halls of the Istanbul Palace of Justice for news from their detained son, a professional soldier in his early 20s.

On the night of the coup attempt he drove a truck. That is all they know because they were able to speak to their son only once, over the telephone.

“He had just signed a contract a few months prior to these bad events,” said Ahmet Yildiz, who, as does his wife, works in a factory for the minimum wage. “He had finished his university studies and could not find a job. He was a simple recruit and he did what his commanders told him. I love my country. My son loves his country.”

He adds that he feels uneasy about the nightly “democracy watches” on public squares all over the country, to which the government has been inviting citizens via speeches, text messages and social media day after day.

“It was a terrible night. Many people died, all of them were our people. My son has been declared a terrorist, but my neighbors are celebrating in the streets. It’s not right. I, too, want to live in a democracy but it has to be a democracy for everyone,” Ahmet Yildiz said.

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