For Turks, Uniforms For Coup Suspects Evoke Images of Guantanamo

coup suspect, T-shirt, hero, uniform, Guantanamo, Erdogan
A special forces member is seen wearing a T-shirt with "Hero" on it before appearing at a court during coup trial.

Though what the government designed for coup suspects to wear for trial hearings in court is not the feared orange jumpsuits worn by Guantanamo inmates, the psychological fallout could not be more similar and blunter. A sense of dread hovers over the society and families of defendants alike.

After the Turkish government mandated that all coup and “terrorism” suspects wear almond-brown uniforms when they appear in court, a bitter controversy has engulfed the entire political landscape and the public sphere.

The implications of the new policy invoked memories of Guantanamo after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week snapped in a public event that coup suspects would dress a single uniform like inmates in Guantanamo.

The Turkish government specified at the weekend what kind of uniforms will be worn by defendants. Mr. Erdogan specifically mentioned that the color of the jumpsuit would be brown, a reference to feces.

It all started after a coup suspect wore a T-shirt with the word “Hero” on it at a hearing last month. It elicited a swift rebuke from the president who castigated the defendant and vowed a change in dress code. Photos of people being rounded up for wearing that T-shirt has since gone viral.

At the weekend, the president said suspects who are accused of taking part in the abortive coup would wear jumpsuits, while terrorism suspects would wear jackets and trousers.

After President Erdogan’s visceral reprimand of the defendant’s T-shirt, the government has gone on a tear, rounding up anyone who wear T-shirt. The government frenzy escalated as dozens of citizens remanded in custody after being spotted as wearing the now infamous “Hero” T-shirt. De Facto, the fashion brand which produces the T-shirt, issued a public apology and halted the production.

The reaction of the authorities bordered on absurdity, with media footage featuring arrested people with T-shirts on terrorism charges. The majority of the targeted seemed to have no idea regarding why they were summarily arrested by police, expressing dismay as much as a shock.

Government supporters poured invectives in social media, railing against the T-shirt-wearing defendant whom they described as a traitor, and accused him of insulting the memory of the 249 people killed during the bloody coup attempt.

President Erdogan’s pledge evoked glee from jubilant supporters but set off a sprawling controversy among the opposition side of the political divide.

The opposition has been incensed by the prospect of humiliation and degrading public treatment of suspects who are yet to be convicted of a crime.

“In fact, entire Turkey is being forced to wear a single uniform,” Zeynep Altiok, responsible for human rights affairs for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in indignation.

“Monolithic mindset makes everybody homogenous. Even before the end of the trial, and for it is not clear yet whether someone committed a crime, or to what extent involved in a crime, painting everybody with same brush fuels culture of violence,” she said on Monday.

She also fumed over government discourse encouraging people’s armament. She argued that Turkey would blunder into a worst situation than now with such pro-gun rhetoric and acts.

Her concerns were not isolated, rather widely shared by broad segments of the intellectual spectrum and political domain.

Speaking on behalf of the CHP, Deputy Chairman Veli Agbaba said that the party is against Guantanamo style single uniform. It will reveal the dismal state of the law in the country where prisoners could be convicted even before the end of the trial, he said.

The debate later revolved around Turkey’s steady ‘descent into a fascist political setting’. The war of words over symbols and cultural norms is increasingly being regarded as the harbinger of a brewing culture war.

The surge in expression of religiosity in public sphere and the escalating controversy over the role of religion in politics emerge as new points of contention over the past weeks.