August 3, 2014

Police arrests part of pre-planned operation to punish gov't critics

A massive operation against the police force on July 22 which resulted in the arrest of over 30 policemen specializing in the counter-terrorism and anti-corruption fields has led a number of prominent observers to comment that the operation is politically motivated and is aimed at punishing critics of the government.

According to observers, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has reworked the justice system to prepare the legal justification for the operation. For this to happen, the government shut down certain courts, established new ones and quickly assigned prosecutors and judges to deal with the investigation into the police officers. It also “picked” the officers to be detained as part of the operation even before it was launched, and decided what accusations to level against those officers. The only part of the plan missing was to find evidence to back the accusations against the officers. And the evidence is still missing -- even after 31 police officers have been arrested.

On July 22, 115 police officers, including former senior police chiefs, were detained in an operation that began with pre-dawn raids. The operation, which prosecutors say was launched following allegations of spying and illegal wiretapping, is widely believed to be an act of revenge by the government for the corruption investigation that became public on Dec. 17, 2013 and unfolded with the detention of dozens of people, including businessmen close to the government, senior bureaucrats and the sons of three now-former ministers.

Most of the police officers detained were involved in the Dec. 17 operation, as well as the Balyoz (Sledgehammer), Ergenekon, Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and Tawhid-Salam investigations. Tawhid-Salam is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization.

As of July 29, 31 police officers had been arrested by the İstanbul 3rd Penal Court of Peace, which only began working in mid-July.

When commenting on the operation, lawyer İrfan Sönmez said the AK Party government has revealed its will to “punish” its critics by this operation against the police officers. “Special courts have been established to deal with this case. This is unprecedented in the world. I have not seen another country establish courts to specially deal with certain cases,” he stated.

The courts he was referring to are the penal courts of peace, which began working only four days before the operation. The operation followed a public statement by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said penal judges of peace, or “super judges,” would be assigned to tackle an operation against what he called a “parallel structure.” These judges are criticized for being endowed with broad powers over investigations and other courts' rulings.

According to Sönmez, assigning certain courts and judges to deal with a legal case is against the European Convention on Human Rights. “Such assignments boosts people's concerns over the independent functioning of the justice system,” he said, and criticized the prime minister for making statements in favor of the operation against the police officers. “The prime minister has also unveiled his stance against the officers. If a political figure is so closely involved in a legal process, then the justice system will fail,” he noted.

Prime Minister Erdoğan didn't make it a secret that his government was planning a sweeping operation against the Hizmet movement after months of “evidence-gathering” against it. Many observers believe that the operations are a way for the government to discredit the recent corruption scandal.

The Hizmet movement promotes interfaith dialogue and the resolution of problems through peaceful means throughout the world. However, Prime Minister Erdoğan's AK Party has recently been engaged in a bitter fight with the movement. This conflict intensified after Dec. 17, 2013, when a major government graft investigation became public. The prime minister claims the investigation was orchestrated by the Hizmet movement, which intended to overthrow his government. However, he has not provided any evidence to prove his claim. The movement denies the accusation.

When the 115 police officers were taken into custody, all of them were accused of having links to the “parallel structure,” a phrase the prime minister uses for the faith-based Hizmet movement. The detentions led to comments in the media that the prime minister had finally declared a “war” against the movement. However, the officers were not asked any questions about the alleged parallel structure, neither by prosecutors nor judges, dealing a blow to the argument that the anti-police operation was staged to combat the parallel structure.

The president of the Law and Life Association, lawyer Mehmet Kasap, described the legal process against the police officers as “scandalous,” and said the principle of presumption of innocence of the officers was “crushed underfoot” throughout the process. He said the officers are accused of spying and forging official documents, among other things, but no evidence was shown to the officers and their lawyers to back the accusations.

Kasap called on judge İslam Çiçek, who ruled to arrest 31 policemen, and the prosecutors involved in the investigation, to state on what legal grounds the officers had been arrested. “The lawyers [of the officers] complain that no evidence was shown to them and their clients to back the accusations leveled against the officers. But when we look at some media outlets, we see claims that the officers were arrested on accusations of spying,” he said.

Arrest of policemen against their rights

The operation against the police officers is described as unlawful by legal experts, as it was marked by numerous rights violations. Prosecutors did not provide any evidence to back accusations against the police officers, some of the officers were denied their right to defend themselves and some of them were forced to stay in police custody for longer than the official pre-arrest limit of four days.

Other breaches of justice include prosecutors and judges involved in the investigation not listening to the demands of the detained officers and their lawyers, officers not being allowed to take showers even though they had spent over a week in custody in stifling heat. Some officers had to wash themselves with cold water in toilets. Some of the officers were not given beds and had to sleep on chairs and even on the floor.

Observers also agree that the arrest of the 31 police officers is unlawful.

Associate Professor Günal Kurşun, president of the Ankara-based Human Rights Association (İHD), the arrests of the police officers are no different to the scandalous decisions made by the Spanish Inquisition. He recalled that the İstanbul 3rd Penal Court of Peace did not hear the defense statements of 17 police officers and made a decision by “looking at the case file.” None of these 17 officers were arrested though. Nonetheless, Kurşun said this fact does not make any difference as the officers' basic right to a fair trial had been violated.

İslam Çiçek, judge of the İstanbul 3rd Penal Court of Peace, said publicly late on July 28 that the lawyers of the suspects had tried to “deadlock” the process through what he called “unnecessary demands.” According to the judge, the suspects would have abused their right to self-defense if the right had not been limited by the court. He also said the suspects will have a better opportunity to defend themselves when a trial against them is launched. He later said he would decide whether to arrest or release dozens of police officers without hearing the defense statements of 17 of them. The lawyers protested the judge's decision.

Kurşun also said the police officers were not even informed about what they were accused of. “The process is politically motivated. It is not possible to explain it with the law,” he noted. He also said the judge will be held accountable for his unlawful decisions starting from the beginning of the operation against the police officers. “If these officers were really detained unlawfully and some of them later arrested unlawfully, the judge who made the decisions will be held accountable. He will be tried for his unlawful decisions. Unlawful decisions [made by members of the judiciary] have a cost in democracies,” Kurşun added.

Independent Deputy Ertuğrul Günay, who resigned from the AK Party in late December of last year, said the operation against the police officers “made the conscience of the Turkish people bleed.” He said there is widespread perception among the people that the officers were detained and later arrested for carrying out the major corruption and bribery operation which was made public on Dec. 17 of 2013.

According to Günay, the detention and arrest of the officers is unlawful. “A judge cannot decide whether to arrest or release a suspect without hearing his defense statement. If he does this, it is an unlawful decision. Such decisions were not made even during coup periods,” he remarked.

Shortly after the arrest of the 31 police officers last week, the lawyers filed criminal complaints against Judge Çiçek, the prosecutors involved in the investigation against the policemen, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu and İstanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 03 August 2014, Sunday