A documentary focusing on the injustices faced by nearly 5,000 judges and prosecutors in Turkey who were fired by government decrees in the aftermath of an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 as well as the consequences of their purge has premiered on YouTube.
The documentary, titled “Yellow Heat” (Sarı Sıcak) and directed by Bedrettin Uğur, a TV journalist in exile, was released Tuesday on CBJTV, the YouTube channel of the Cross Border Jurists, an association founded by purged Turkish jurists to monitor human rights violations.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
The documentary said Turkey fell by scores of positions in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index after 2015 and ranked 116th among 140 countries in 2022.
In the documentary judges Ünal Ocak, Saim Nergiz, Esat Özdem, Tuğba Demir and Esma Üçler Koç and prosecutor Mustafa Doğan, some of whom were jailed after they were purged from their jobs, recounted details of the injustices they and their colleagues experienced in the aftermath of the attempted coup.
All the judges and the prosecutor currently live in exile.
The judges claimed that the purge of judicial members in Turkey was part of a plan devised by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government long before the coup attempt.
“I saw my name on a red list approximately 13 months before July 15. … Even before news of the coup attempt came [to us], the names of 2,700 people [who would be dismissed] had already begun to be published on WhatsApp groups,” Özdem said.
Nergiz said when they saw the list of purged people later on, they noticed that the lists contained the names of deceased individuals as well.
“Even a person with an average IQ can see that these lists were not prepared on July 15. They were worked on for years … and they waited to push the button on a day that happened to be July 15,” he added.
Üçler Koç talked about her prosecution after the coup attempt and said, “It’s very difficult to be treated contrary to your profession. I was arrested in my own courtroom. I was tried in my own courthouse.”
Regarding the situation of the judiciary after the post-coup purge, Özdem said it was filled with people with no experience in the profession, adding that it wasn’t possible to expect fair decisions or independent judgments from them.
“The judiciary was completely overthrown and lost its independence, turned into a body under the command of politics,” he added.
“Law has been put on the shelf, but humanity has also been put on the shelf,” Demir said, explaining that she was so desperate that she got on a boat with her 2-year-old infant and fled to Greece across the Maritsa River, the land border between the two countries.
When asked what would happen to the judges and prosecutors involved in the injustices they suffered following the attempted coup, Üçler Koç said she knew she wouldn’t be impartial about their possible prosecution and would certainly want them to be tried, insisting that “these atrocities not go unpunished.”
The AKP’s post-coup crackdown ruined the lives of tens of thousands in Turkey who have been targets of hate speech, hate crimes, unlawful prosecution, torture and abductions, among other serious human rights violations.
Former public servants were not only fired from their jobs; they were also banned from working again in the public sector and getting a passport. The government also made it difficult for them to work formally in the private sector.
Most dismissed civil servants are accused of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, but there were many others who belonged to other opposition groups.
The ruling AKP labels the movement as a terrorist organization and accuses them of masterminding the abortive putsch, although Gülen and his followers strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.