The family members of police officers arrested in the July 22 operation, which is perceived as being politically motivated, are patiently waiting for justice as they firmly believe in the innocence of the officers amid violations of legal procedures in the case.
In talks with The London Post, various members from the respective families commented independently on some of the important issues surrounding the events. All agreed that the operation against the police officers is not based on actual evidence and all of them expressed the desire to seek justice at all levels, including at the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Hacer Başdağ, the wife of detained policeman Hayati Başdağ, said her husband had been working as a dedicated policeman for 20 years. Başdağ, who served as the Intelligence Unit’s police chief for three years, was taken away from his wife’s family’s house in İstanbul. “We were visiting my parents during school vacation,” Mrs. Başdağ said. She is resentful about the treatment of her husband by his fellow policemen, as he was handcuffed while being detained at the house. A photo of the former police chief with his handcuffed hands in the air went viral and became a symbol of the July 22 operations, which took place during the early morning hours of a day during the holy month of Ramadan.
According to legal procedures, only dangerous suspects who are likely to run away are supposed to be handcuffed. “They treated him like a terrorist,” Mrs. Başdağ said, adding that a telephone call would have been enough for him to turn himself in. According to his wife, Başdağ said the handcuffing was shameful for Turkey, but his colleagues have claimed that they were following orders. During the police search of the house, the family sent their three kids to their uncle’s residence in the same building.
Denying arguments that Başdağ posed for the cameras to show off, his wife says if he was after sensational news, he could have taken advantage of several opportunities to do so during the operations he conducted over the years. According to her, the handcuffing must have pushed him over the edge, as he normally has a calm disposition. Mrs. Başdağ does not seem to have a full account of the accusations against her husband. “My husband does not talk about his work at home,” she said as she tried to remember the charges that have been filed against him.
Characterizing the ordeal as highly unjust, Mrs. Başdağ said they have not been able to make their voices heard. Blaming the government and as the perpetrator of “unlawful practices,” Mrs. Başdağ complained about the lack of reliable authorities to whom one can report human rights violations.
However, Mrs. Başdağ is not among those who had to wait longer than the legal detention period for the release of her husband. He was detained on July 22 and arrested just three days later. However, like the other arrested police chiefs, he was sent to Metris Prison, even though civil servants are normally sent to Paşakapısı Prison.
The imprisonment of Başdağ has turned his family members’ lives upside down. Since all of the police officers who were arrested have also been reappointed, their salaries have been reduced by a third. A police officer who serves in the institution for 20 years receives approximately TL 3,500 per month.
Although the Başdağ family has been living in Ankara for over one year, Başdağ has been reappointed to the eastern province of Bingöl. Since his imprisonment, his family has been forced to move to İstanbul since the state of the legal proceedings is not yet clear. Başdağ’s 11-year-old daughter Asude is fully aware of the events, saying she reads news about her father through her uncle’s Facebook posts.
All of the arrested officers’ families went to Ankara on Friday to submit their case to the Constitutional Court in order to file a suit based on unlawful violations of the legal procedure.
Accusations of leadership of a gang with 2 members
Nazife Demirhan, the wife of Erol Demirhan, one of the senior-level police chiefs among the arrested, says the detention was not surprising as pro-government media outlets have been signaling an operation for months.
However, a detailed search in their house was a humiliating surprise for them since Demirhan has been serving in the Intelligence Department for 22 years. “My husband does not have a single disciplinary punishment,” says Mrs. Demirhan as she reacts to her husband having been handcuffed by his colleagues. However, she noted that “some of them seemed embarrassed.” She argues that handcuffing was an attempt to discredit the police chiefs in the public eye since it was done in front of cameras on purpose.
Although Demirhan turned himself in on July 24 in İstanbul after he was notified in Ankara, false reports that he was on the run have appeared in the pro-government media.
What about accusations Demirhan, who is imprisoned in a solitary cell, as is the case with his colleague Ali Fuat Yılmazer? Mrs. Demirhan talks about charges of illegal wiretapping, and adds with a sarcastic smile on her lips that her husband has been accused of being the “leader of a gang” with Yılmazer.
Critical of the unlawfulness of the investigation process and the void accusations that have been directed at her husband, Mrs. Demirhan says that she will exhaust all legal means possible until justice is served.
The families of the detained and arrested police officers displayed a strong sense of solidarity and vigilance in the wake of the investigation, which coincided with the last ten days of Ramadan. The relatives and friends of the police chiefs as well as ordinary citizens showed up for support.
The majority of the police chiefs and their families observed Ramadan. Mrs. Demirhan says that police chiefs had to fast without being given proper food during sahur (pre-dawn meal) or iftar (fast-breaking meal).
“My husband and his colleagues sacrificed the best years of their lives for this country, they worked day and night,” Mrs. Demirhan states, adding that sometimes one wonders whether it is fair to receive such treatment in return for their service. However, despite her resentment, she believes that justice will be served one day as she is certain about the fairness of God.
Mrs. Demirhan is also convinced that the investigation is a deliberate plot. “If things worked normally, those people should not be in prison,” she says, explaining that her only remaining hope for the rule of law is the Constitutional Court.
In response to a question about whether they feel isolated or abandoned, Mrs. Demirhan says police families understand each other and do not leave each other alone. Emphasizing that her husband did not commit any wrongdoing during his tenure, Mrs. Demirhan lists the long preparation time for the investigation and the institution of specially authorized judges for this specific investigation as evidence of political motivation.
“There is no evidence of charges against my husband,” she says while showing the numerous certificates of appreciation that Demirhan has received over the years. With her husband imprisoned, Mrs. Demirhan is also considering moving to İstanbul. According to her, since this is a politically motivated investigation, the beginning of the trial will be unlawfully delayed as much as possible by the government.
Gov’t ‘showing off’ through arrests
Binnaz Bayraktutan, the wife of İstanbul Police Department Counterterrorism Unit chief Serdar Bayraktutan argues that the investigation on the police chiefs is a way for the government to show off to its supporters and intimidate its opponents, since there is no evidence of a crime having been committed. Stating that her husband served only in the unit investigating extreme-left terrorist groups, Mrs. Bayraktutan says he has not been accused of forging documents regarding the Iran-backed, right-wing Salam-Tawhid organization. “My husband did not even have access to the other departments in the Counterterrorism Unit because they are separate departments,” she said. She challenged those who conducted the operation against her husband to display what documents he or his colleagues allegedly forged.
Serdar Bayraktutan, who is the author of a book titled “Mom, it’s me: The return home of a suicide bomber,” is an idealistic and dedicated police officer who aims to “win people over, especially young people who are lured by terrorist organizations,” his wife emphasizes. Bayraktutan’s book was distributed in high schools to raise awareness against terrorist groups, his wife stated. Because of his stance against terror, Bayraktutan has been the target of certain terrorist groups in the past. “Our address was found among the documents of the terrorist DHKP-C [the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front] and we had to move,” Mrs. Bayraktutan explained.
When her husband was detained and brought to the police headquarters in İstanbul where he had served for seventeen years, his family followed. Mrs. Bayraktutan says although her husband spent more time at work than at home over the years, they were not even allowed to wait in the front yard and had to stand on the pavement, which felt awkward. However, she says they have been patient and wait for justice. In the meantime, Mrs. Bayraktutan is supposed to go back to her job at a hospital in Van, the last place her husband had been serving before his detention. However, shortly before the investigation, the police chief was reshuffled to Muş province. Due to the constant changes, he has not been able to receive his salary for the last two months.
The father of police chief Ramazan Orkun Altunışık, Necmettin Altunışık, joined the other families in expressing full confidence in the innocence of the arrested police officers. “We do not know what he has been accused of,” Mr. Altunışık says.
All the families outside the court criticized Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç’s call for the police chiefs to apologize. “Are they going to be forgiven if they apologize? Then all convicts could be released if they simply apologize,” says Mr. Altunışık. Similarly, Mrs. Bayraktutan says her husband sent a letter from prison in which he refused to apologize, saying he does not regret anything.
Mrs. Demirhan thinks that Arınç’s call for an apology is humiliating since her husband and his colleagues have not done anything unlawful. “They do not owe an apology to anyone,” she stated, and asked the same question as the other families: If they are guilty, how could they be forgiven by the government?
The arrested police officers are allowed to meet their families once a week while in prison.