September 3, 2014

Jurists suffocated by government pressure in state of 'revolt'

Statements given by top jurists on the occasion of the start of the new judicial year have revealed that the judiciary is, so to speak, in a state of revolt against the government's efforts to intervene in and redesign the judiciary.

Head of the Constitutional Court (AYM) Haşim Kılıç said he refused to launch an administrative investigation about AYM staff who were claimed by security units, without any evidence, to be linked to the Hizmet movement.

“Profiling is being carried out by labeling people. A list drawn up based on profiling also came to me. I just threw that list away,” the AYM head said at a reception held on the occasion of the new judicial year on Monday evening.

Complaining that people are being slandered by anonymous letters, without any evidence, Kılıç told reporters at the reception at Parliament: “Nobody who has reason would accept a separate structure within the state. But to take a step for this purpose, you need to present information and evidence [concerning it]. Serious mistakes are being committed by accusing people without any documents and information [that shows their involvement in a crime].”

The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals and of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB), Ali Alkan and Metin Feyzioğlu, respectively, also harshly criticized the government for its pressure and intervention in the judiciary in their speeches at the event held on the occasion of the start of the new judicial year on Sept. 1.

“The judiciary is, as it were, in revolt to the pressure the executive has over it,” Günal Kurşun, a professor of penal law at Çukurova University, told Today's Zaman.

Noting that members of the judiciary have been extremely upset by the government's pressure, Kurşun said: “They are right, because I observe that they are confronted with a political attitude in every aspect of their profession from promotion to disciplinary issues.”

The Hizmet movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, has been targeted, since a graft probe was made public in December last year, by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has claimed, without providing any proof, that the graft probe represented a coup attempt against the government.

Erdoğan also claimed that police officers and members of the judiciary who carried out the graft probe, as part of which four Cabinet ministers had to leave their posts, had links with the Hizmet movement.

The AYM's head, Kılıç, who underlined that he was not provided with any information or documents about those profiled employees of the AYM from either the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) or the Security General Directorate (EGM), said: “A load of advice notes arrive [to authorities from people], based on which people [public employees] are profiled. It is based on these profiles that the head of an institution is asked to resolve the issue. This is extremely wrong and unacceptable.”

According to Kurşun of Çukurova University, who is also head of the Ankara-based Human Rights Agenda Association, the judiciary should be immune to the pressures of politicians, first and foremost of that of the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Justice.

Otherwise, Kurşun believes the judiciary system in Turkey is in for a great trouble. He said: “The judiciary is sending off alarm signals. If the judiciary as a roof collapses, then we would all suffer the consequences.”

In a historic call to judges, at the meeting in the capital the Supreme Court of Appeals' head Alkan called on them not to allow anybody to intervene in their job and bribe them into giving a certain verdict. He said: “Do not lower yourselves to obtain any higher post, title or assignment. […] Do not let anybody intervene in your job.”

Ergun Özbudun, a professor of constitutional law at İstanbul Şehir University, shares the top jurists' concerns about judicial independence. Stressing that judicial independence is a value that needs to be protected carefully in every democratic country, Özbudun told Today's Zaman, “I take these statements [by top jurists] in this context.”

The government's attempt to redesign the judiciary so that it acts in line with its wishes was criticized severely in the meeting hosted by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

“Attempts to exert pressure on judicial institutions, to design the judiciary in a way that [the government] desires and to intervene in the decisions the judiciary carries out cause concern,” said Alkan, president of the Supreme Court of Appeals.

No government official -- not President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu or Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ -- were present at the meeting in Ankara.

İbrahim Kaboğlu, a professor of constitutional law at Marmara University, believes members of the top judicial bodies and bar associations should protest even more strongly the government's intervention in the judiciary.

Noting that even the government of the military coup of 1982 did not intervene so blatantly in the judiciary, Kaboğlu told Today's Zaman: “Confronted with such a picture, heads and members of top judicial bodies and those of the TBB should be able come together in meetings and mass rallies [to protest the government's pressure on the judiciary] instead of just speaking out on the occasion of certain days.”

Alkan said even though since 1943 judicial independence and the separation of powers have been highlighted in speeches delivered at the opening of the judicial year, Turkey has yet to achieve such principles.

The government has stepped up its efforts to redesign the judiciary to serve its purposes -- that is, to plant judges in top judicial bodies who are sympathetic to the ruling party -- particularly after the sweeping graft probe.

The president of the Supreme Court of Appeals revealed that he was concerned that the government, which recently launched a probe into police officers who conducted the graft investigation, may well be planning one into the prosecutors involved. “Some members of the executive publicly announced that a police operation could be launched into [members of] the judiciary without needing instructions from those in authority,” he said.

Without any reference to President Erdoğan, who has often complained about the power of the judiciary over the executive, Alkan was harsh in his criticism of those who saw judicial supervision over acts of the executive as a sort of tutelage.

Emphasizing that judicial supervision is a must for the rule of law, he covertly criticized the government, which has not respected some court verdicts, saying: “Implementation of court verdicts is a must to be able to talk about judicial supervision. In other words, unless the verdicts pronounced as a result of a judicial process are implemented, it is not possible to talk about the rule of law [in a country].”

The government was accused, in a recent report by the Taraf daily, of lobbying to get jurists who are loyal to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) elected to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

Kaboğlu, who maintained that the government is also trying to manipulate the election at the HSYK, said, “The regulations and practices that forms the basis of the relation between the judiciary and democracy have largely been nullified.”

TBB head Feyzioğlu also accused the government, although without making any direct reference to it, for not respecting the rule of law and acting arbitrarily.

Describing steps arbitrarily taken by rulers who identify themselves with the state, without respecting the rule of law, as the country's most serious threat, the TTB head said: “It is rulers who act arbitrarily who destroy states. It is rulers who act arbitrarily who lead nations into ruin.”

Feyzioğlu, who emphasized that the struggle for the defense of freedoms is bound to be achieved, said the reason for this is “because freedom has always emerged victorious.”

Erdoğan declared earlier that he would not attend the ceremony held on the occasion of the start of the judicial year if Feyzioğlu were invited to speak at the event.

The conflict between Erdoğan and Feyzioğlu dates back to early May, when the former stormed out of a Council of State meeting after scolding the TBB chairman from the audience for his long speech.

Feyzioğlu, during his address at the Council of State event, had questioned the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) violations of personal rights and freedoms.

Apparently, Davutoğlu and Bozdağ did not attend the ceremony on Monday as a show of support for Erdoğan.

Published on Today's Zaman, 02 September 2014, Tuesday