Another bizarre set of police roundups today in Turkey: eleven people, mostly journalists, were subject to early morning house searches and reportedly issued arrest warrants. Among those caught in the net is Nedim Şener, an award-winning reporter, who has done more than anyone else to shed light on official complicity in the plot that led to the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian journalist, in 2007. Three other journalists had been arrested in an earlier raid on the website OdaTV.
The detainees are being charged with membership in the Ergenekon Terror Organization, an alleged plot which, judging by the evidence prosecutors have so far adduced, is as imaginary as the ancient Turkic fable that lends its name to it. As full of holes as the prosecutors’ case is, the latest charges about journalists go beyond the absurd. They cannot possibly help the government’s case. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who has shown some signs of wanting to distance himself from these show trials, should be enraged.
So what is going on here?
I can only make sense of this is as the judicial equivalent of a financial pyramid scheme. In a pyramid scheme (also called a Ponzi scheme), old investors are paid back by deposits from new investors. So survival depends on an ever-growing group of new investors. Similarly, saving the Ergenekon trials requires a pyramid of ever-more sensational new cases to obfuscate previous misdeeds.
So, as the initial cases have dragged on, with no conclusion in sight after more than three years, prosecutors have had to bring up new cases, with evidence that looks more “solid” (mainly fabricated or planted documents describing operational plans in detail). The charges have become more sensational (spying, prostitution rings, downing of a fighter jet). When doubts about the evidence have surfaced, additional evidence has had to be dug up (through anonymous tips, of course). And when reporters have uncovered unpleasant facts about what the police and prosecutors are up to, prosecutors have had to charge them with being in cahoots with the Ergenekon conspiracy (as in the recent arrests).
Pyramid schemes do not unravel gradually; they collapse from one day to the next. This, in a way is the good news.
But when pyramid schemes collapse like a house of cards, it is not just those who concocted them that get badly hurt. The entire society suffers from the aftershock. The same is likely to be true of these judicial dirty tricks. That is the bad news.
See my piece on Turkey in the FT tomorrow for more on this.