Çarşı on trial: Turkey’s war on dissent takes a tragicomic turn

2006-05-24_143203_carsiIt would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.  In their determination to root out all opposition, Turkish authorities today called members of the soccer fan club, Çarşı, to court under the same broadly phrased anti-terror statutes that were employed against members of the Gülen movement on Sunday and against countless others in recent years.

There are many things that one can say about soccer fans, but the idea that they represent an organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the state crosses into the realm of the absurd. 

There was a circus-like atmosphere to parts of the proceedings. Cem  Yakiskan, one of the group’s leaders, joked, “If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have made Besiktas champions” to applause and cheers in the courtroom. The prosecutor’s evidence for the indictment included the fact that one of the defendants ordered “meatballs and pizza” for people attending the protests.

Yet the absurdity of this court case should not hide the serious threat that such prosecutions represent.

As it has with other trials associated the post-Gezi crackdown, Amnesty had observers at the trial today.  As authorities continue their crackdown on dissent, it is vital that the world sees what is underway in Turkey.  It is vital that those targeted understand that they are not alone.

Speaking after today’s hearing, Murat Çekiç, Director of Amnesty International – Turkey said:

The case against 35 members of the football supporters group Çarşı for setting up a terrorist organisation and plotting to overthrow the government during the Gezi Part protests adds to ever growing list of prosecutions of dissenting voices in Turkey, under broad anti-terror laws that are wide open to abuse.

Like the case against Taksim Solidarity where architects, doctors and city planners who are also accused of leading a terrorist organization, this latest trial is yet another prosecution that should not be taking place. We have long criticised the use of anti-terrorism laws to stifle critical and dissenting voices. Until and unless legal changes are introduced to anti-terror laws bringing them in line with international standards, we fear such prosecutions will continue.

The hearing today had moments of laughter. The protests outside the courtroom were more festive than angry.  Yet, at the heart of this trial is something ugly and dangerous.  Behind the absurdity of this case is the grim reality of the Turkish government’s continuing war on dissent.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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