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Hope in Turkey

DW's Erkan Arikan
Erkan Arikan
February 18, 2020

A court in Turkey has acquitted several defendants who were on trial for the Gezi Park protests. The verdict came as a surprise to many, DW's Erkan Arikan writes. Some even consider it a miracle.

Türkey: Gezi Park Protest defendants
Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

The 2013 Gezi Park protests were a dramatic event for me and many people in Turkey. Residents of Istanbul were upset by the decision of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, to allow construction of a shopping center on a small grassy strip in the heart of of the city. Erdogan, who has since solidified his power as the president, ordered Istanbul's police force to crush the protests. Nine people were killed, thousands were injured, and charges were brought against numerous demonstrators.

The public prosecutor's office demanded that the court imprison the philanthropist Osman Kavala and two other people for life on charges of attempting a coup. Life sentences were demanded for defendants on other charges, as well. Kavala was rearrested on other accusations shortly following the acquittals.

On Tuesday, a judge acquitted nine defendants, citing a lack of "concrete evidence." It is doubtful that there will be an immediate return to the rule of law in Turkey, but you could describe the glass as half full. The government still faces various lawsuits at the European Court of Human Rights. Lawyers say the acquittal of novelist Asli Erdogan — who had faced charges of terror propaganda for documenting rights violations — earlier in February and Tuesday's ruling could be part of a paradigm change.

Erkan Arikan
DW's Erkan ArikanImage: DW/B. Scheid

In my opinion, the rulings were ordered by the president for political reasons. Once again, Erdogan wanted to divert attention from his problems both domestically and on the international stage. Turkey's economy has almost reached rock bottom. In fact, rumor has it that the state could have trouble paying the salaries of civil servants beginning in April. Erdogan is also engaged in a series of disputes with partners in NATO.

Read more: Leftist folk musicians go on trial in Turkey on 'trumped up' terror charges

The president had no choice. He needs foreign investors and the political support of his remaining allies.

Read more: The freedom of speech stands trial in Turkey

Just the beginning?

Tuesday's ruling will not help Erdogan in the long run. He is alone, and he is isolated. Former companions — including Abdullah Gul, who co-founded the Justice and Development Party with Erdogan and preceded him as prime minister and president — have recently made that much clear. It is also clear that, with every acquittal, the opposition is gaining strength.

I hope with all of my heart that Tuesday's ruling is just the beginning and that other courts will also order the release of people who have been imprisoned unjustly. Erdogan will have no choice but to make further concessions.

No one can say for certain whether such a strategy would help the president retain power. What is certain is that Erdogan will do whatever it takes to make sure power stays in his hands for as long as possible.

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DW's Erkan Arikan
Erkan Arikan Head of DW's Turkish service
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