Yavuz Aydin, Turkish judge purged by President Erdogan now living in exile, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy — see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the coup events and subsequent purge:
“Even before this coup attempt was done, the High Council met to suspend 3000 judges, and they did it in just two hours – completed the investigation, made the decision.”
“They issued an arrest warrant for 2800 judges and prosecutors, including myself.”
“I went to bed as a judge and woke up as a terrorist.”
On targeting judges and lawyers:
“First you need to attack the lawyers and judges. Then the media, then others. And it happened this way in Turkey.”
“First they came for us. First they came for the judges.”
“They were banned from being employed, so there was no other option but leaving Turkey.”
On opposing Erdogan:
“As people in Turkey, we are much more than Erdogan’s opponents. We have human rights, we have dignity. Turkey is much more than Erodgan. There are millions of people waiting for their voices to be heard.”
As I said my name is Yavuz Aydin, I was a judge in Turkey for 14 years up until 2016.
Now I am a refugee, a judge in exile, a student, a jurist, whatever you call it. I want to talk about the sad story of Turkey and with a special focus on my colleagues, my blood, and the lonely colleagues in Turkey and outside of Turkey.
To start with, you must have heard that something very interesting happened on the night of the 15th of July 2016. There was a coup attempt. A really treacherous attempt to maybe ‘overthrow’ the government or maybe as the opposition leader was saying, a ‘controlled coup d’etat’. We don’t know yet, we will see sooner or later, but all my condolences to those who lost their lives in that treacherous night.
That night changed the lives of many people, millions of people, in and outside of Turkey. When I saw these things happening and when I saw the jets bombing places and the people on the streets, I saw it on the TV and it was really really shocking but after some hours, at around 6:00 a.m. in the morning, I went to bed feeling that everything was under control. At around 10:00 a.m. in the morning, about four hours later, I woke up with my phone ringing; my friends and my wife were calling and they were asking “why are you sleeping?” I replied “What happened?” and they said, “thousands of judges are being purged now by the High Council of judges and prosecutors.”
Well, that was shocking but the real shock came afterward. I learned that in the morning, even before this coup attempt was suppressed, this High Council of judges and prosecutors convened with the agenda of suspending some 3,000 judges and prosecutors, including me, and they did it in two hours. In two hours they launched the investigation against these 3000 judges and prosecutors, they completed the investigation, they made the decision, and they handed out this to the prosecution office. The prosecution office, even before the decision of the High Council of judges and prosecutors, THEY issued an arrest warrant for all these 2800 judges and prosecutors, including my name. All these lists were posted on the internet and on Whatsapp.
So, in summary, I went to bed as a judge and woke up as a terrorist.
That was really what happened. What I saw afterward was that Erdoğan really meant something when he was saying that this was “a gift from God”. It was 3 a.m. in the morning that night, in the middle of the coup attempt, nothing was suppressed yet, and he said this. Then I understood that this was just the beginning, and it was. After purging 3000 judges and prosecutors…you know I wasn’t there, I didn’t surrender after seeing all those pictures and video footage of tortured people broadcast and aired by the state TV channels and agencies. Okay, I thought ‘let’s wait and see’.
bUt in the meantime, the real coup came. the state of emergency was declared and Turkey derogated from all international human rights conventions, including the UN Human Rights declaration and European Convention on Human Rights and all others. Turkey then purged more than 150,000 civil servants including more than 4000 judges and prosecutors.
I should underline the effect here. First, they came for us, first, they came for the judges. Maybe they also read Shakespeare’s ‘Henry VI” in which you know this character ‘Dick the Butcher’ says “the first thing after the rebellion, let’s kill all the lawyers”. Maybe they have such a similar cultural heritage, I don’t know, but since the time Shakespeare wrote this it’s become a fact; first, you need to attack lawyers and judges, then the media, then others. And it happened in this way in Turkey.
More than 500,000 people were subjected to judicial investigations, more than 263,000 people were detained. Out of this number, almost 100,000 people were arrested. There are still currently more than 58,000 people under detention in Turkish prisons with accusations of terror-related crimes. So this is how it goes.
I was planning to talk about my story until up to a few minutes ago but then I remembered some other things and there are so many sad stories that it really would not be good to just focus on my story. I will write about my story afterward.
So you see this – these people crying next to two tiny graves on a Greek island, Keros. These are judges and prosecutors purged by Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey and they buried their children on Keros Island and this land you see over the sea is Turkish land. They wanted to bury their kids on the Turkish side of the island, but what happened to these children Do you know?
One was at the age of three when the other one was only three months old. They were trying to flee Turkey, they were trying to buy their freedom, they were trying to get to Europe for security, for rule of law, because they were purged, they were detained, they were in jail for years, their passports were cancelled, everything was cancelled. They were banned from being employed so there was no other option than to leave Turkey, like tens of thousands of others.
There are many fathers and mothers in this room, I am sure. Please ask yourself ‘under which circumstances do mothers and fathers risk the lives of their children?’ Their kids were drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Keros. There are thousands of such stories and these are only the judges and prosecutors who died in prisons in Turkey after being detained and arrested illegally.
There are many sad stories but now what I can do for them is only speak up and try to remind you that there is something happening. As our Uygur colleague from the Xinjiang region said “nobody can say we didn’t know”. You saw and you know. The UN knows. The EU knows. The Council of Europe knows. The European Court of Human Rights knows. The European Court of Justice knows. Everybody knows.
Please don’t be a part of this crime. Be a part of this cry for these people. I don’t just say to forget about realpolitik or high politics but Anton has a motto about the UN Security Council and the permanent 5, he says “the world is bigger than five”. Yes, the world is bigger than five and the world is bigger than political aims and political benefits, there is human dignity, there are human rights, and as people from Turkey, we are much more than being Erdoğan’s opponents. We have rights, we have dignity, and Turkey is much more than Erdoğan.
There are millions of people waiting for their voices to be heard. Please, don’t forget them.