The Guardian – 6 July 2017, Thursday
By Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Chair of Turkey’s CHP
Every day, tens of thousands of Turkish citizens are walking to demand justice. We began in Ankara on 15 June and we are marching to Istanbul, walking for almost 20km (13 miles) every day. We are demanding justice and the rule of law for everyone living in Turkey.
This is a long journey – 432km. The walkers have endured heavy rains on the mountains and scorching heat along the plains. Our numbers have already exceeded 40,000, and we expect tens of thousands more to join us over the coming days. A chant resonates in my ear all day long: “Hak, hukuk, adalet” – rights, law and justice.
Regardless of our political views, we are united under one single cause: justice. We walk peacefully. We do not respond to the laying of bullets on the road in front of us, or the manure dumped on our camping sites. When bullies try to provoke us with insults we respond only with applause. Our peaceful but steely determination is our greatest asset.
There is no precedent for this in our republic's history, brought on by a regime which seeks mainly to protect itself
Last July, Turkey suffered an attempted coup. But a second, more insidious coup took place five days later, when the Justice and Development party (AKP) government declared a state of emergency, suspending the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. Since then Turkey has been ruled by decree. The government has sacked around 105,000 civil servants without any proper explanation. It has arrested large numbers of academics, journalists, and even members of parliament, on politically motivated charges. Fear has started to reign in our society.
To make things worse, in April the government sponsored a referendum to give the president sweeping new powers. Although the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the referendum was conducted unfairly and unlawfully, and short of the standards set by the Council of Europe, the AKP used it to consolidate its one-man authoritarian rule, making the state of emergency permanent.
Injustice, arbitrariness and discrimination have become defining features of the AKP regime. That is why we are demanding justice first. The “right to justice” is a basic human right. It encapsulates the cardinal principles of rule of law: independent courts and judiciary, the right to a fair trial and equal access to the law for all citizens.
The authoritarian regime has stripped away this right from Turkish citizens. Our country’s highest court has declared itself powerless and incompetent to review the legality of the laws decreed by the government. Judges who attempt to be independent and impartial face immediate removal and criminal indictment. Lawyers who represent political opponents of the regime face the prospect of arrest. On Wednesday, the director of Amnesty International Turkey and several other prominent human rights activists were detained without cause. Our prisons are at capacity: criminals are being released early to make way for political dissidents and journalists. Where individuals are investigated or indicted, their families too can lose their legal rights. Collective punishment has re-emerged.
The new authoritarianism in Turkey is characterised by a parliament that has only limited powers of legislation, by newspapers that misrepresent the facts and often amount to a government-sponsored megaphone that smears any opposition, by courts that merely sign off decisions taken elsewhere, and by expensive government rallies sponsored by state funds. Meanwhile, public demonstrations are almost always prohibited by law – this is despite the fact that the right to protest injustice is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a crisis, with no precedent in our republic’s history, brought on by an authoritarian regime that seeks mainly to protect itself.
We are not alone. The world is seeing a rise of extremists, illiberal populists and dictators. There are important differences in the degree of oppression, but there are also commonalities. Dictators learn from one another. They conspire together against democracies. They ruin their countries and force their people to seek refuge abroad. How should liberal democrats respond? We need to develop and share internationally new democratic means to challenge the powers of illiberal populists and the new generation of dictators.
The only principled response to this authoritarian challenge is to renew and strengthen our commitment to democratic values. And that must come from words and deeds that instil hope. Hope is contagious. I see it grow every day on the tired but resolute faces of those who walk beside me. Solidarity breeds courage. Soon hundreds of thousands will join us.
As our numbers grow, so does our collective sense of courage. Our walk indicates our determination to defend freedom of expression and our right to peaceful demonstration in Turkey. We are walking to remind those who choose to rule by decree and intimidation that ours is a social contract: we, as citizens, submit to the authority of the state in exchange for the protection of our rights.
We are walking to restore that contract; we are walking to restore democracy, justice and our hard-earned fundamental freedoms. We are walking to lift the deceptive veil of “democracy” from what is in fact a harsh authoritarian regime. Our march will end at the gates of the prison in Istanbul that houses so many of this regime’s victims. But we hope it will mark the beginning of a new societal movement for justice, one that will resonate beyond Turkey’s borders.
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