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Turkey’s real fashion victims – POLITICO.eu
ISTANBUL — If you travel to Turkey these days, you might want to mind your sartorial choices.
Last week, an Azerbaijani national was detained and deported from the northeastern town of Kars, while across Turkey more than 30 unsuspecting citizens have been picked up by the police over the past month. Their alleged crime? Wearing a T-shirt.
The trouble began on July 13, when Gokhan Güçlü, a soldier accused of participating in last year’s coup attempt, appeared in court in a T-shirt with the slogan “Hero” printed in black-and-white letters across his chest.
His attire sparked a heated exchange in the courtroom, forcing the judge to adjourn the hearing. The following day, enraged protesters hung white T-shirts with the word “traitor” from miniature gallows outside the court.
Although the offending item was a widely available T-shirt sold by the Turkish clothing brand Defacto, the ensuing scandal transformed it into a symbol of sympathy with the putschists — and underscored just how brittle the rule of law has become in Turkey.
“We didn’t follow the news. We got the T-shirts at a shopping center. We didn’t know they were forbidden” — Detained university students
Anyone caught sporting the same T-shirt was detained and accused of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” — referring to the movement of U.S.-based imam Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey has named as the attempted coup’s mastermind.
The flagship pro-government newspaper Sabah even detected a secret message in the T-shirt slogan: “HERO,” they wrote, was short for “Hoca Efendi Razi Olsun,” translating roughly to “May the teacher bless you.” “Hoca efendi” — a title of respect for religious teachers — supposedly refers to Gülen, who is often addressed as such.
Many suspects, however, said they were simply unaware of the scandal and the rather serious fashion faux pas they had committed. Two university students who were detained for wearing the T-shirt told the police: “We didn’t follow the news. We got the T-shirts at a shopping center. We didn’t know they were forbidden. We wore the same T-shirts because we wanted to match each other.”
More than 30 people have been detained as of early August; all but two have been released. State prosecutors announced they would investigate Güclü’s sister, who reportedly sent him the T-shirt, and the prison authorities who permitted him to wear it.
Among those detained were several teenagers. The youngest, aged 13, was picked up while sitting at a cafe with his father. One student wearing an entirely different gray T-shirt with the slogan “part-time hero” was also detained.
Demonstration of loyalty
The T-shirt hysteria was largely met with ridicule from government critics, yet many also saw its darker side.
Arbitrary arrests and prosecutions based on spurious evidence have become increasingly common over the past year. Turkey has imprisoned more than 50,000 of its citizens since the attempted coup, ostensibly to rid the state and society of suspected Gülen supporters.
Many Turks, including government critics, consider Gülen’s opaque movement suspicious and dangerous. But the purge expanded as it rumbled on, targeting not only putschists and established Gülenists, but any citizen with the slightest connection to the group.
These days, it does not take much to be labelled a Gülenist: A one-dollar bill at home or an account at the Gülen-linked Bank Asya, both considered evidence of terror crimes by the state, have cost many Turks their jobs and their freedom.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has established significant control over the judiciary, exerting pressure on judges to rule in favour of the state. But the government’s degree of involvement in the spate of T-shirt arrests and similar cases remains uncertain.
“We don’t have a clear sense of how centralised these arrests are,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at New York’s St. Lawrence University and fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based think tank.
“My strong sense is that much of this is generated by prosecutors and facilitated by judges who are guessing at what the government wants, who are feeling pressured by a cheerleading press. You have an environment where everyone is trying to demonstrate their loyalty,” he said.
Fear and suspicion have gripped Turkey since the failed coup. Critics worry about their country’s democratic decline, the erosion of state-mandated secularism, increasing government surveillance and the potential of arrest.
But among loyalists, too, paranoia reigns. Fearful of another coup attempt, the government is constantly on the lookout for enemies within. Civil servants who criticise or rule against the state face suspension, investigation or arrest.
“If you’re a policeman or prosecutor, perhaps you’re a true believer, but perhaps you’re doing what bureaucrats have always done — you look at the potential cost of action and inaction and take steps accordingly,” Eissenstat said. “And the cost of not prosecuting, not detaining, can be pretty steep.”
In one much-cited example that alarmed government critics, three judges were suspended earlier this year after deciding to release a group of journalists, against the wishes of the state prosecutor. The journalists were re-arrested instantly.
Meanwhile, the T-shirt frenzy shows no sign of abating. On Monday night, a man wearing the by now infamous top was arrested while having dinner in the western city of Adana.
On Monday, Erdoğan announced that coup suspects would be required to wear a brown uniform in court.
With nearly 500 coup suspects currently standing trial, the government appears keen to avoid a repeat of the controversy.
On Monday, Erdoğan announced that coup suspects would be required to wear a brown uniform in court. The president had previously called for defendants to be dressed in orange jumpsuits akin to those worn by detainees in Guantanamo.
But Takvim, a pro-government tabloid with little regard for facts, has already identified the next fashion scandal.
The newspaper zoomed in on other coup suspects’ clothes last week and found that they wore American brands such as Calvin Klein — as far as Takvim was concerned, evidence that the U.S. conspired with Gülen to overthrow Erdoğan.
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