Since the infamous July 15th, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, 4,560 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed from duty, allowing the judicial system to become monopolised by pro-government employees. Of those dismissed, 2,431 are currently detained on trumped up charges. One such detainee is Adem*, who after serving as a judge for ten years has spent the past 18 months in custody. I spoke to Mariam*, Adem’s wife and mother of two, to hear their story.
On July 15th, 2016 the family was moving into a new house in a new city, having been transferred for Adem’s work. Mariam was pregnant with their second child. In the late hours, her husband went to get them all something to eat, but came back empty-handed; he had learnt of the coup attempt. They were of course upset by the news, but as Mariam comments “We did not know our lives would be destroyed after that night”. They would be henceforth declared as ‘traitors’.
On the 16th, they learnt that 2,745 judges and prosecutors had been suspended. Once the list was published, to their shock, Adem’s name appeared. The very next day, people from the list began to be arrested. As Adem had just moved, he was lucky. However, he decided to go and testify, believing that the mistake would be corrected. Instead, the police came to search the family home, arresting Adem and leaving a pregnant Mariam and their young son alone in a new city. They were banned from seeing Adem, and did not hear from him for another ten days. On this time, Mariam remembers, “I will never forget the sad life I spent”.
Eventually, non-contact, non-private visitation was allowed. Mariam told her young son that his father was staying in a library to read books, so they must talk on the phone behind a window to avoid disturbing people. She hopes that he does not now hate libraries. During these hard times, there was the further pressure of realising the horrible prison conditions.
A ward designed for eight held 27 judges, without air-conditioning during summer. For these 27, hot water only lasted for an hour and a half each day. Books and courses were forbidden, as were supplies for time-passing hobbies. For example, although beading was allowed for normal prisoners, it was banned for these inmates. They had radios for a while, but these too were ultimately banned.
As one can imagine, being pregnant has increased Mariam’s hardship. With her being unable to work, the news of Adem’s dismissal became much worse. The family now has no income, and their health insurance has been cancelled. The stress and sadness has put Mariam at risk of miscarriage, and she is supposed to regularly see a doctor. She attempted to sell their one property, a car, but the sale was frozen as a judicial measure. She says, “Each day is harder than before… My husband is a prisoner between the four walls, and I am a prisoner in a vast world”. Her son continually asked when his father was coming home.
During all this, judges and prosecutors were continuing to be targeted. A second list for dismissal was published, and Mariam saw the name of a friend and prior colleague of Adem’s. Shortly after she heard he was also arrested, despite being very sick and prone to panic attacks in enclosed spaces. She met with his wife, who told her that she had met with the chief public prosecutor and presiding judge to ask why they had given the name of her husband as a member of the Gulen movement. Their only answer was that they had warned him to stay away from the judges and prosecutors first listed for dismissal, but he had continued to play sport and travel with them. As Mariam says, “Is it that simple to play with human life”?
Other colleagues and friends began to turn away from the family, fearing similar consequences. Mariam gave birth alone in the new city. Afterwards, she took the newborn to see his father, but Adem could not bear to hug the baby and face the subsequent separation. Mariam faced terrible postnatal depression in these circumstances, crying for days without stopping. She was unable to breastfeed, giving her baby formula instead. She says that her pain was not only for her own experiences, but also for the other victims like them.
Adem has yet to be convicted of any crime. The indictment against him was only written a year after his arrest. He is accused of frequently meeting dismissed judges, criticising the government, and using the ByLock messaging application. The sentence for these ‘crimes’ is six to nine years imprisonment – however other judges with the same charges have been released, as verdicts are given in an ad-hoc manner.
Adem’s first hearing was not until six months after indictment, with the second taking place recently. Maryam recalls one of her visits to the courthouse, when she bumped into a judge and close friend of Adem’s. He became uncomfortable when he saw her. She proceeded to ask him about Adem’s case, about why this good man was being prosecuted.
The judge replied that Adem had failed to vote for the favoured candidates for the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK, or HSK since the 2017 referendum). The HSK is the legal body which assigns and dismisses judges, and gives permission to carry out disciplinary and criminal investigations against them. Whoever is elected to the HSK essentially controls Turkey’s judiciary. It has been noted that it has been under pro-government control since 2014, and Adem is not alone in being punished for voting otherwise. The judge also told Mariam that “If we speak positively about him (Adem) we would be punished”.
This was another blow to Mariam, who recalls how passionate Adem was about defending other’s rights in the court of law. He would get upset if he was running late to work; when Mariam told him not to worry as he did not have any superior to account to, he would reply that it would be unfair to keep people seeking justice waiting. He would buy supplies for the office out of his own money, and so on. Yet he is now a proclaimed ‘traitor’ with no job nor his own freedom.
The family continues to suffer, with Mariam struggling financially. Her two sons are growing up without their father. The elder child cries in bed with Adem’s photograph, and has told his school friends that he does not have a father. They may have to live without Adem for another six to nine years. Nonetheless, the family does not want mercy from the judges handling the case, they only wish for justice.