Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who has been imprisoned since November 2016, replied in the form of an open letter to judge Orhan Gazi Ertekin who had himself written an open letter to Demirtaş.
In his letter Ertekin had made a historical criticism of the Turkish judiciary. He said:
“Almost none of the indictments and court decisions in Turkey had left a mark in history. The contents of the defences made in courts, on the contrary, are ever vivid and in circulation everywhere as literary and scientific texts. What kind of a tragedy is this, dear Demirtas, for a judge who’s spent so much of his life at the judge’s bench? What kind of fate is it for a man of duty, charged with the privilege of addressing from the bench of reason, justice and truth, to go looking for all those in people ‘beneath’ that bench? What does this signify for us, for the judges and prosecutors of Turkey? Is this too ‘a Turkish exception’?”
Demirtaş replied: “In five years I have been ‘accused’ in more than forty cases, and not even a single one of the judges, said ‘I’d like to hear the voice of the accused’, and I could not feel the impulse to address any one of them as ‘Venerable Judge’. As I’ve finally met a judge with 26 years of experience who’s inclined to listen to me, please allow me to address you as ‘Venerable Judge’. And let me be the witness here, not the accused.”
I’ve read your letter in the cell of Edirne high security prison where I’ve been imprisoned as a hostage for five years; the letter in which you argue, through my case, about the grave situation surrounding the judiciary. It’s night now and it’s raining outside as I’m writing these lines. We can’t touch the rain because the ventilation is closed, but we can still hear it. Sometimes a clatter on the door of another cell or slogans are heard. Tonight there are protests again, their sound reaches us. So it’s feeling nice. We could even go a little bit further and call it romantic. I’m trying to say that I do not mean to dramatise or agitate when I’m mentioning about the ‘cell’. Moreover we even have smuggled tea. We are getting it from the canteen. It’s labeled as export tea. We still call it smuggled although it’s not smuggled anymore as its tax has been payed. I guess we like it more as smuggled tea. Besides it’s not the tea itself who benefits from the tax, but the government, so it’s still smuggled. So it turns out that the thief is outside while the smuggled and the hostage is in the cell. This is very unfair, Venerable Judge, but it’s still fine. The tea, I mean.
You said at the end of your letter that ‘you should listen more to the voices of the accused’, Venerable Judge. By the way, may I address you as ‘Venerable Judge’? Because I really want to do so. In five years I have been ‘accused’ in more than forty cases, and not even a single one of the judges said ‘I’d like to hear the voice of the accused’, and I could not feel the impulse to address any one of them as ‘Venerable Judge’. As I’ve finally met a judge with 26 years of experience who is inclined to listen to me, please allow me to address you as ‘Venerable Judge’. And let me be the witness here, not the accused. I’m a person of law myself for 22 years. But I could appear as a lawyer in only a few cases during all of that time; in the rest they have had me as the accused. Let me appear at least as the witness for once now. let me tell about the things I’ve witness during the trials, Venerable Judge. And I swear that I’ll tell the truth.
Venerable Judge, as you’re aware, a trial is carried out in accordance with the basic face-to-face principle. In other words, the accused has the right to be present at the court and address directly to the judge while making their defence. I personally did not exercise this right most of the time. Not because I wasn’t let into the courtroom; I was, indeed. But I couldn’t speak to the judges face-to-face while I was making my defence. Not because they didn’t have a face, but because I couldn’t see it. Because most of them were sitting there with their heads bowed down. I still don’t know how the faces of those judges, who never had the courage to raise their heads and look at me even once, looked like.
Fortunately we then had the pandemic and they started wearing masks. They even managed to cover their entire faces by pulling the mask all the way up to their eyes. I call them people who go on doing the same thing despite being ashamed of it, or simply ‘shameless cowards’.
They have been aware that what they were doing was not a trial. They have been aware that they were contributing to the construction of a one-man-rule regime by lynching a political figure in accordance with the instructions of the political authority. They have also been aware that they were acting as accomplices in the destruction of a country. But they did it all the same. Because they were scared. They were scared to be expelled from the profession, to be imprisoned, to be declared traitors. I could smell their fear and their hatred towards me. But no. Not because of my political views or a personal animosity. If I had bowed before the sovereign as much as they did, they wouldn’t have to feel so much shame. I was the source of their shame. Not the sovereign. So I’d become the subject of their hatred, not the sovereign.
“There is no such thing as justice,’ says Alain, and continues: ‘Justice is something that should be created, precisely because it doesn’t exist.’ Over this, Andrê Comte-Sponville questions: ‘Then how can justice be created without knowing what it is or how it ought to be?’
And as the witness, I’d like to say this, Venerable Judge: Is it supposed to be the judge who is expected to know what justice is or how it should look like, the judge who hates me, who can’t lift up his head in all his shame, whose fingers tremble as he opens the case file? Is it supposed to be this judge who is supposed to create justice out of nothing? The prefix for the word ‘justice’ [editor: Demirtas uses the Arabic word ‘adalet’] is ‘just’ [‘arabic adl’ says Demirtaş]; meaning exact and equitable. And justice signifies realisation of exactness and equitability. So, is this judge supposed to be the one who will make me exact and equitable?
I don’t know if they have ever blushed. I couldn’t see it, Venerable Judge. They were faceless ones, those judges who put me on trial. Would I not say if I’d seen it? I wouldn’t lie, now that I’m under oath.
Obviously, not all the judges I’ve met in the courtrooms were concealing their faces. There were ones with faces, and more than just one, as a matter of fact. Those looked at me and pretended they were just, then showed their true faces as they announced their decision. It would be more appropriate calling them ‘brazen experts of feeling no shame’. Their expertise was in their ability to be unashamed, not in their judgement. Since I was experienced in being the accused and my lawyers were in defending rights, it’s never taken us too long to recognise their true faces. Nevertheless I still felt sorry for them; for the destruction they caused because of their servility. In the end I’m both a politician and a person of law. But ‘being a warrior of the light’ is not easy for anyone in this dark passage of history.
Most of the time I questioned myself when I saw the state the judges were in. How did we arrive at this point as a society so that they’re in such a state? There were times when I lost my faith. At such times I recalled what Paulo Coelho had said for ‘the warriors of light’: ‘The warriors of light aren’t always sure of what they’re doing. They very often spend their nights awake, thinking their life is meaningless. This is why they are warriors of light. Because they make mistakes. Because they constantly ask questions to themselves. Because they search for a reason and they’ll certainly find it.’ And I thought, maybe one day I can become a warrior of the light.
Today was a day of visit, Venerable Judge. My wife and my daughters came to visit me. My elder daughter Delal will enter the university exam next year. Although she’d chosen the department for math and science in the middle school to be able to enter the Bogaziçi University, she’s changed her mind in the last grade and shifted to language and math. She wants to study law. The injustices must have hurt my daughter. As she was inclined even to forsake the Bogaziçi University, a law department has been established there.
On the day of their visit I looked at her glittering eyes through the tainted glass panel and said, ‘Congratulations, they’ve established a faculty of law at Boğaziçi University’. My younger daughter iinterrupted and said, ‘Dad, do you know who established that faculty?’ Delal nodded approvingly. It was apparent that they’d talked about this before. ‘I guess it’s been established by the trustee rector,’ I said. ‘So is it proper to go and study in a law school established by a trustee?’ they asked.
I felt like crying, Venerable Judge. I wanted to weep inside the booth, out of joy and happiness. So this is the way justice is created out of nothing, I thought, feeling hope all of a sudden. It looks like my daughters had long graduated from the law school. Like millions of other adolescents, they have a good idea on a lot of things. They don’t hand over their free will to any trustee. I then once again remembered the last sentence of Paulo Coelho on the warriors of light: ‘Because they search for a reason and they’ll certainly find it.’ I’d found my reason once again, Venerable Judge.
I saw, beside the faceless and double-faced judges, also those who’d received too many visages. The sovereign had spoiled those with too many visages of approval, way too many. They’re not restrained by anything that prevents them from acting as political militants. If you take a closer look you can spot the party badges under their gowns. They are very willing to execute the political instructions they have. They are restless, enthusiastic, eager. They’re always in a hurry to accomplish the mission rapidly and present the results to the sovereign. If they are able to accomplish it by the new promotion term, it’ll mean that they’ll have an instant reward. Those types, they wouldn’t feel any shame even if we’d called them ‘the senior ones without shame’.
You know Themis. The goddess of justice whose eyes are covered, holding scales in an exact balance. Themis is the personification of custom, fairness and traditional moral values in mythology. She’s also the wife of Zeus, and the mother of Horae. Horae is the daughter of Themis and Zeus: Eunomia, Dike and Eirene. These three girls are the goddesses of spring and flora who promote the fertility of the earth. Even the judges spoiled with too many visages of approval have a figure of Themis on their desks. But I guess their perception of the goddess of justice is only as the spouse of Zeus, and perhaps the sovereign is actually their own Zeus. Who knows, maybe they’re using the scales to weigh pieces of gold. The equation is simple for these judges. Sacrifice Themis to Zeus, then take advantage of the orphaned Horae’s power of fertility. Let me ask you, Venerable Judge, can a person operating on such an equation have any chance of creating justice?
İhsan Eliaçık from the group of Anticapitalist Muslims refers to justice in his book ‘State of Justice’ as follows:
‘Justice is an attempt to set up an equation. It is the process of setting up an equation for the whole existence, in general terms, and for the state, the society and the world, in more specific terms. It tries to ensure that everything is in its proper place and they’re included in the equation. As a matter of fact, there actually is such a cosmic equation in the universe. The problem is that the human kind either disarrays it or tries doing so. Justice is the attempt to re-establish the equation. And the equation needs to be re-established each time. So you are supposed to make a new calculation in each process of re-establishment.’
I wouldn’t lie, Venerable Judge, it appears easier to be the accused instead of the judge once you’ve read İhsan Eliaçık. It’s difficult being a judge; to re-establish the equation, to create justice out of nothing in each incident, each case, each trial of the accused. Please do say, Venerable Judge, can the ones who weigh gold in the scales of Themis re-establish the equation?
I guess I stretched it a bit. I can’t help asking questions now that I’ve met a judge who knows how to re-establish the equation. And like I’ve said before, I’m under oath and I wouldn’t lie. I did meet straight judges, though not so many. They had a single face and they always looked straight at me. They had a bright face and we understood each other. We just postponed the real meeting to another spring silently. Themis listened to us, her eyes covered, and even a straw of hair didn’t tip the balance of the scales. I’d tell much more but there’s no need.
This is the situation, Venerable Judge. I’ve got much more to say, but let me end it here before my tea gets cold. Even the smuggled tea has its honour, it needs to be drunk hot. It doesn’t behave like it does in the tea glass when it’s accompanying the hostage.
With love and respect…