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HDP’s former Co-President, Selahattin Demirtaş, incarcerated for the past five years in Edirne’s Type F prison, wrote an open letter to Judge Orhan Gazi Ertekin.


I read your open letter in the top security cell in Edirne prison where I have been held hostage for the past five years. In it, using my situation, you discuss the gravity of judiciary power.

It is raining outside while I write these lines during the late night hours. We cannot touch the rain, because the courtyard promenade is closed, but we can hear it. Sometimes, we hear pounding on the doors, and slogans coming from other cells. There is a protest again tonight. The sounds blend in with the rain. This tells you about the pleasant atmosphere. By stretching things a bit, we could even describe our cell as romantic! Notice I don’t write of the “cell” part above in order to dramatise the issue, or for purposes of agitation.

We have contraband tea. We buy it at the canteen. It is labelled “imported tea”.  Even if it ceases being contraband tea once excise duties are paid, we don’t stop talking about the tea as contraband, I suppose we love it more when the tea is contraband. Plus, since the government is the one pocketing the payment, and not the tea itself, it still remains contraband. This being the case, the thief is on the outside, a fugitive and a hostage are in the cell. It’s most unfair, Your Honour.  But it’s tasty. The tea, that is.

At the end of your letter, you write: “…we should lend a closer ear to the voice of the accused.”  Your Honour, may I really call you “Your Honour”? Because I would so like to do so.

I was “judged” in over forty cases during the past five years and, unfortunately, no judge, or almost none, said to me “I wish to lend an ear to the voice of the accused.” And I was unable to call any of them “Your Honour” in total peace of mind. Now that I’ve found a judge with 26 years of experience ready to listen to me, please, allow me to call you “Your Honour”. And may my title here not be that of “suspect” but of “witness”. I am also a jurist, of 22 years standing. Over that period, I served as a lawyer, oh, let’s say in a handful of cases and in the others, I was always assigned the role of the accused. Allow me to testify, at least for once. So I may tell you things I witnessed at trials, Your Honour. And I swear to tell the whole truth.

Your Honour, as you know, in procedures, there exists a principle of contradictory judgment. In other words, the accused has the right to appear in court, in person, and to present his defence in front of the judge. Most of the time, I could not make use of this right. Not that I was never brought before the court, of course I was. But I could not present my defence in the judges’ face. Not because they don’t have a face,  but because I could not see it. Most of them kept their head bowed forward.  I still don’t know what those judges looked like, they did not lift their head to look at me a single time during the trials.

Luckily for them, the pandemic showed up and they all started wearing masks. By bringing their masks right up to their eyes, they managed to hide their faces even better. Those who are ashamed of what they are doing, but do it anywhere, I call “shameful cowards”. They were aware that what they were doing was not a judgment. They were aware that, in lynching a politician in this way, on orders from the supreme authority, they were contributing to the construction of an autocratic regime, and that they were accomplices in the destruction of a country. But they did it anyway. They were afraid.

They were afraid to be dismissed from their profession, thrown in prison, declared traitors. I could sense the emanations of their fear, and also of the hatred they felt for me. But no, not for my political views or for reasons of personal animosity. But had I also lowered my head before the sovereign power,  they would not have been obliged to feel so ashamed. I was thus the source of their shame, not the absolute power. This is why their hatred was exercised against me and not against the Sovereign.

“Justice does not exist” said Alain. He continued: “Justice belongs to the order of things to be done precisely because they do not exist”. André Comte-Spongille then wondered, “but how can one create justice without knowing what it is, or should be?” 

As a witness, I would like to say what follows, Your Honour: Will the judge who hates me, who cannot lift his head out of shame, who opens the file with a hand shaking with fear, is he the one who will know what justice is, or how it should be rendered?  Is this judge the one who will create justice out of nothing? The root for the word justice [adalet in Turkish] is “adl”. This means being equitable, being just. Is this the judge who will  treat me with equitable justice?

I cannot say if they blushed. I could not see it, Your Honour. Those judging me were faceless. Would I not tell you, had I seen it? I am not lying. After all, I am under oath.

Of course, all the judges I met in hearing rooms did not hide their face. There were also some who had a face, and even more than one. And those, looking me straight in the eye, pretended to be just. And when they pronounced the verdict, they showed their true face. It would be pertinent to call them “experienced hardened shameless ones”. Their experience was that of impudence and not that of the experience in exercising as a judge. And since I am an experienced accused one and my lawyers, experienced legal defendors, we were quick to understand their true faces. Still, I was sad for them, for the damage, the destructions they cause because of the low condition in which they had fallen. After all, I am both a politician and a lawyer! But in this dark period of history, it is not easy for anyone to become “one of the warriors of light”.

Seeing the situation in which the judges find themselves, I have often wondered. How, as a society, did we reach this point for even the judges to be in this state?  There were many times when I lost my faith. At those times, I thought of what Paolo Coelho said about “warriors of light”: “The warriors of light cannot always be certain of what they are doing in this world. They spend their lives thinking it has no meaning. That is why they are warriors of light. Because they make mistakes. Because they put questions to themselves. Because they search for a reason and they will certainly find it.” I told myself: “Perhaps I’ll be a warrior of light, some day?” I thought about it.

Today is a visiting day, Your Honour. My wife and my daughters came to see me. My eldest daughter  will be taking her university exams next year. In fact, she had chosen the S option, in order to study at the University of the Bosphorus. For some reason, in her final year, she changed her mind and passed into an L section. She now wants to study Law. The injustices must have wounded my daughter. This is even why she took the decision to abandon Bosphorus University even though a Law Faculty has been opened there.

Indeed, on visitors’ day, looking into her sparkling eyes I could see through the dirty window, I said: “So, are you happy, daughter, a Law Faculty has opened at the University of the Bosphorus?” My youngest daughter, Dilda, intervened immediately : “Do you know who opened that faculty, papa?” And Delal nodded in approval. Obviously, they had talked about it among themselves . “I suppose th rector-tutor opened it”, I said. “Can we ever go study in a Law school opened by a tutor?” they argued.

I could have cried, Your Honour. In this narrow visitor’s cabin, I could have cried all the tears in my body. From joy, from happiness. I thought “there, this is how justice is created out of nothing.” I was filled with hope. It’s as if my daughters had done with the Faculty of Law a long time ago. Like millions of their peers, they master all of it. They will not submit their will to any tutor. Again I remember the last sentence Paulo Coelho wrote for the warriors of light: “Should they search for a reason, they will certainly find it”. Once again I found my reason, Your Honour.

Outside of judges with no faces and of two-faced ones, I also saw judges with multiple faces. Sovereign Power has given them an excess of faces, hundreds of them. This is why they are so presumptuous, living with impunity. Without scruples, disrespectful, they do not fear to act openly as political activists. In looking a bit more carefully, one can glimpse their Party badge under their robe. With fiery fervor, they rush to execute the political orders they receive. They are impatient to finish the job as quickly as possible and to present the report to the Absolute Sovereign. Should they manage to reach the next promotion, the next nomination period, they will immediately receive their reward. And if we were to call them “of a ripe age, all shame dissolved”, they wouldn’t even experience any.

You know Themis. The blindfolded goddess of justice. In her hand, she holds the balanced scales of justice. In mythology, Themis is the goddess of customs, of justice and of moral traditions. She is also the companion of Zeus and the mother off the Hours. The Hours being the daughters of Themis and of Zeus, Eunomy, Diké and Irene. These three are the goddesses of spring and of plants, they radiate fertility. There is even a statue of Themis on the table of the judges with many faces. But I suppose that, for them, she is the wife of Zeus, the goddess of justice and that their Zeus is the personification of the Sovereign.

Who knows, perhaps they use the scales to weigh gold? For these judges, the equation is simple: sacrifice Themis to Zeus and benefit from the abundance from the Hours thus orphaned.

So, is there any chance that justice will be rendered by someone with such an equation, Your Honour?

İhsan Eliaçık of the Anticapitalist Muslims’ group, refers to justice in these terms in his book “The State of Justice”:

“Justice is an attempt at establishing an equality.  It is a process for the establishment of an equity for all of existence, in general terms and in more specific ones for the State, society and the world, it involves insuring that each thing is in its proper place and included in the equation. In fact, there exists such a cosmic equation in the universe. But the human species disorganises it or attempts to do so. Justice is the attempt a re-establishing this broken equation. Moreover, the equation must be re-established each and every time. Thus, you are supposed to recalculate with every process of re-establishment”.

I will not lie, Your Honour, reading Master İhsan Eliaçık, being the accused seems easier than being the judge. It is difficult being a judge, re-establishing equity, creating justice out of nothing in each incident, each case, each trial, each accused. Tell me, Your Honour, those who weigh the gold on the scales of Themis are able to re-establish the equation?

Perhaps I was a bit longwinded. Now that I have found a judge who knows how to re-establish equity, I cannot keep myself from asking questions. And as I said earlier, I am under oath.  Without lying, I met some decent judges, even if they were very few. They had only one face and they always looked me straight in the eye. They had radiant faces and we understood one another. We simply  silently moved the true meeting to another spring. Themis, blindfolded, was listening to us and her scales  did not even budge. I could say more, but there is no need to.

Such is the situation, Your Honor. I would have a lot more to say. But I stop here, before my tea gets cold. Even contraband tea has its honour, it must be drunk hot. When is accompanies the hostage, it does not last as long as it would in a finer glass.

With affection and respect…

Selahattin Demirtaş

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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