Turkey on Trial

ISTANBUL – 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 government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 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 Erdoğan’s government made up of 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 movement.

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.