admiral Ozer Karabulut is one of more than 200 people
indicted on charges of plotting a coup in 2003 [EPA]
In a Hollywood
courtroom drama, you know that the hero, set up by the bad guys, will
eventually be cleared - but not before the noose tightens around his
neck. Just when it looks like the accumulating evidence has condemned
him, a sudden turn of events will prove his innocence and expose those
who framed him.
If Turkey's ongoing political-military trials ever find their way to
the screen, there will be no shortage of such denouements. In a series
of bizarre prosecutions, Turkish courts have jailed hundreds of
defendants - military officers, journalists, academics and lawyers - for
allegedly plotting to topple the country's democratically elected
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promotes the trials as evidence
of Turkey's new turn towards democracy and the rule of law. They are
also actively supported by news media belonging to the so-called Gülen
group - a powerful ally of Erdogan's government comprising followers of
the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. In reality, the trials amount to a
grave breach of the rule of law, with the judiciary transformed into a
political weapon aimed at opponents of the government and the Gülen
The cases are comical - or would be if they were not really happening
in a country of 74 million people whose strategic importance is
difficult to overstate. In fact, the prosecutions are riddled with such
fantastic claims, imaginary conspiracies, outlandish fabrications,
obvious set-ups, and credulity-straining plot twists that a Hollywood screenwriter who included them in a script might well be laughed out of the business.
Consider the "Sledgehammer" case. More than 200 military officers are
charged with plotting a coup in 2003 to dislodge the then newly elected
government. The prosecutors have what looks like solid evidence:
detailed plans, ostensibly authored by the defendants, describing a
series of ghastly operations to destabilise the country. The officers
proclaim their innocence and assert that the coup documents are
fabricated, but who is to believe them, given what the prosecutors,
government and major media say?
The trial has already had more than its share of movie-ending
moments. Several defendants have shown that they were outside the
country and had no access to the computers on which they supposedly
authored the plans. Others appear to have misspelled their own names or
gotten their titles wrong. Two forensic reports have established that
the handwriting on the incriminating CD was forged.
Perhaps most dramatically of all, the coup documents contain much
information that could not possibly have been known at the time,
including references to companies, NGOs, hospitals, and many other
entities that were established years after the plan is supposed to have
Imagine the courtroom scene. The defence lawyer points to the key
piece of evidence and addresses the prosecutor: "You, sir, claim that
this CD containing all the incriminating documents was prepared by my
client in 2003. Can you explain how my client could have known the names
of officers on a frigate that joined the Navy only in 2005? Or the
licence plate on a vehicle that was issued in 2006?" The judge turns
towards the prosecutor expectantly. Sweating profusely, the prosecutor
has nothing to say. The judge brings down his gavel with a loud thump.
The case is dismissed.
Or consider the case of a group of young officers charged with
organising a prostitution ring and stealing state secrets. The charges
again rest on electronic files, supposedly found in the defendants'
homes. But the police made an elementary error that revealed the set-up:
after supposedly receiving an anonymous tip about Ahmet A (a
pseudonym), they mistakenly searched Ahmet B's home - and yet
somehow found the incriminating files among B's possessions. Ahmet B is
obviously not Ahmet A, and the only explanation is that the evidence was
planted - in the wrong house. Ahmet B was eventually released
(after nine months), but the case still goes on.
Similar examples abound in other cases. A prosecutor questions a
suspect about a plan to intimidate Christians before the police have
actually "discovered" it. A journalist is jailed because his notes for
an unfinished manuscript on the Gülen movement are construed as
instructions from a terrorist organisation. A senior police officer who
has written an exposé detailing Gülenist prosecutors' misdeeds is jailed
after police find illegal recordings of intercepted calls in his
office - which he had vacated days earlier.
Vindication comes quickly in Hollywood movies, but not in Turkey,
whose courts have so far seemed oblivious to the glaring problems with
evidence presented by police and prosecutors. Ludicrous cases proceed,
and more people are being dragged into them. The mainstream independent
media do not even report the inconsistencies for fear of provoking the
government or the Gülen network.
These cases will eventually collapse under the weight of their
collective absurdity. But the damage done will extend far beyond the
suffering of hundreds of innocent individuals who have been locked up
under false pretences. The hope that Turkey is finally shedding its authoritarian vestiges and becoming a stable democracy will lie in tatters.
Dani Rodrik, a professor at Harvard University, is the son-in-law of the lead defendant in the Sledgehammer case.
A version of this article first appeared on Project Syndicate.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.