Punishment for dissent begins with lengthy pretrial detention in Turkey

One month ago today, Yigit Aksakoglu was released from prison after being held on charges he’s still trying to understand.

The early childhood services advocate was taken into custody on Nov. 17, 2018, for “attempting to overthrow the government” during the 2013 Gezi Park protests, and was released on parole after seven months to continue his trial, in which he faces a life sentence without possibility of parole.

“I was picked up for no reason, that’s the only way I can explain it,” Aksakoglu told Al-Monitor.

Aksakoglu was included in a 657-page indictment along with 15 other defendants including prominent Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala in what would become known as the Gezi Trials. The group was charged with organizing and financing the 2013 protests that prosecutors claim sought to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party.

Initially detained without charges, Aksakoglu only became aware of the accusations four months into his detention. The Gezi indictment was unsealed in March 2019 – by which time Kavala had been in pretrial detention for 16 months. As he gets back to normal life, Aksakoglu maintains he was lucky to be released and that many detainees remain in Turkish prisons with neither charges nor convictions.

“Time passes by in prison and there is not a moment that you aren’t thinking about when you will be released,” Aksakoglu said, adding he was held in solitary confinement with daytime access to a “nine-step-by-nine-step” outdoor courtyard.

“I lived in shock for the first 50 days or so,” Aksakoglu continued. “But then I established a routine. I read four or five newspapers a day. I read work-related stuff. … I played my ukulele at least an hour every day. I exercised every day at least an hour.”

Aksakoglu’s time in prison highlights the growing use of lengthy and arbitrary pretrial detention in Turkey. Though the practice is not new and international courts and human rights groups have long condemned its liberal application by Turkish courts, extended pretrial detentions have increased dramatically following the mass purges ongoing since a 2016 coup attempt.

Now, as the Turkish judiciary begins its summer recess, from July 20 to Aug. 31, about 58,000 people remain imprisoned in Turkey without charges or convictions, according to Ministry of Justice data from November 2018 analyzed by the Turkish Human Rights Association. Several high-priority cases will continue during the period, but most others have been postponed until after the break.

The broad use of prolonged pretrial detention, particularly in cases involving politically motivated terrorism charges, has raised concerns that it’s become a form of summary punishment in post-coup Turkey.

Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/gezi-protest-detainee-released.html#ixzz5uixvwJj8