x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ruling may shed light on dark time in Turkey's past

The European human rights court sided with a former state prosecutor who was fired for trying to indict the general who led revolt.

Gen Kenan Evren, foreground, led the Sept 12 1980 coup in Turkey.
Gen Kenan Evren, foreground, led the Sept 12 1980 coup in Turkey.

ISTANBUL // Sacit Kayasu has paid a heavy price for his determination to have the leaders of Turkey's last military coup face justice. Now, eight years after he lost his job as a state prosecutor for daring to prepare a charge sheet against a former general, Mr Kayasu feels victory is near. "They will have to face the courts," Mr Kayasu said this week, referring to the generals who lead the coup of Sept 12 1980. "Within two years, there will be a trial."

Mr Kayasu's prediction rested on a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that was issued last week. The European court said Mr Kayasu's freedom of expression had been violated by a decision to strip him of his post as a state prosecutor in the southern city of Adana in 2000 after he drew up an indictment against Gen Kenan Evren, the coup leader. The 1980 overthrow is a dark spot in Turkey's history. Legal proceedings against its leaders would be the end of a taboo and would bring the country eye to eye with one of the most painful chapters of its recent past.

Turkey's army pushed elected governments from power in 1960, 1971 and 1997 as well, but the 1980 coup stands out because of the vast scale of persecutions that followed it and because of the effect it has had on Turkey's political life long after the tanks rolled onto the streets. The constitution that the generals wrote and had adopted by referendum in 1982 is still in force today. The coup was triggered by violent street battles between rightist and leftist groups that brought Turkey to the verge of anarchy. Although the coup ended the street battles, military action was primarily directed against the Left. Trade unions, political parties and associations were banned and tens of thousands of people, mainly Leftists, were arrested and put on trial. Hundreds were tortured and 50 people were executed, according to Cumhuriyet, a newspaper. A further 30,000 people fled to seek political asylum abroad. Gen Evren later served as Turkey's president from 1982 to 1989. Today, the 90-year-old former general lives near the Aegean resort town of Bodrum.

Gen Evren and the other leading military officials who toppled the government of Suleyman Demirel, the prime minister, in 1980 have been shielded from prosecution by a special article in the constitution that they drew up. But Mr Kayasu said the verdict from Strasbourg opened the way for the former generals to stand trial. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey has to implement rulings of the Strasbourg court. "The verdict is clear," Mr Kayasu said. "Now it is the task of prosecutors to take action."

As a state prosecutor in Adana, Mr Kayasu, 56, filed an indictment against Gen Evren in 2000, saying it was his job to bring people to court who were accused of having committed a crime. He argued that although the constitution protects the coup leaders, that protection is not valid for the first three months immediately after the coup because the constitution refers to a law the military government issued three months after taking power.

Mr Kayasu's superiors were not amused. Only one day after he presented his indictment, the justice ministry in Ankara gave permission to prosecute Mr Kayasu on the grounds that he had misused his office. He was accused of insulting the armed forces and fired as a prosecutor. He lost his licence to practise as a lawyer. With all legal alleys in Turkey exhausted, Mr Kayasu turned to the European court in Strasbourg. There, a panel of seven judges, including Turkish judge Isil Karakas, found unanimously that Mr Kayasu's rights had been violated and sentenced Turkey to pay him ?40,000 (Dh185,300) as well as ?1,000 (Dh4,630) in expenses.

Mr Kayasu, as a prosecutor, had a "duty of loyalty to the State that employed him", the court conceded. But that was outweighed by Mr Kayasu's demand that Gen Evren and other coup leaders face justice. "This was unquestionably a debate of general interest, in which the applicant had intended to participate both as an ordinary citizen and as a public prosecutor," the court said in a statement. There has been no reaction from Gen Evren.

The court did not say openly that the coup leaders may be tried in Turkey. But by stressing that a Turkish state prosecutor who draws up an indictment against Gen Evren or other former coup generals is protected by the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, the judges in Strasbourg have opened the way for new efforts to put the generals on trial, Mr Kayasu said. "There is no reason not to do it," he said.

Ahmet Gundel, a former state prosecutor at Turkey's court of appeals, agreed with Mr Kayasu. He told Zaman, a daily newspaper, that the Strasbourg court had clearly given state prosecutors the right to open an investigation against former coup leaders. However, no prosecutor has stepped forward to follow in Mr Kayasu's footsteps so far. Mr Kayasu underlined that he does not want to be seen as an "enemy of the military" and said several of his relatives were soldiers. But a trial against Gen Evren or other leaders of the 1980 coup would be positive for Turkey, he said. "Turkey would gain democracy, it would gain self-confidence, it would gain trust in the courts."

For the immediate future, Mr Kayasu said he wanted to have his licence as a lawyer back as soon as possible. Asked if he would like to return to his former job as state prosecutor, he replied: "I don't think they would take me." tseibert@thenational.ae