April 27, 2015

Judges who ordered release of journalist stand by their decisions

In open defiance against political pressure and government interference, Turkish courts in Istanbul stood by their earlier rulings that a detained journalist and anti-corruption investigators must be released from long pre-trial detention at once.

The judges of İstanbul 32nd and 29th Courts of First Instance on Monday reiterated earlier rulings that ordered the release of journalist Hidayet Karaca, who is also Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO, and 63 imprisoned police officers who have been kept under pre-trial detention for months despite a lack of evidence substantiating their incarceration.

The government rushed to stall the releases, however, by orchestrating the 10th Penal Court of Peace to illegally vacate the decision of 29th Courts of First Instance that already declared judges in the Penal Courts of Peace as partial and as such cannot adjudicate matters on a decision regarding the replacement of judges at these courts.

According to the hierarchy of the judiciary under the Constitution, courts with higher authority than the Penal Courts of Peace are the courts of first instance.

The Penal Courts of Peace are also known as “project courts,” which were specially set up by the government to punish opponents and critics.

The 29th Courts of First Instance said on Monday that the 10th Penal Court of Peace's decision is null and void because it is a lower court and has no jurisdiction in the matter.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu accused judges who ordered suspects' release with attempting to stage a judicial coup against the government.

“Decisions issued by our court are in line with the code on procedure, definite and not subject to a dissension. They must be enforced immediately,” the court said.

It also referred to the articles of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that specifically protect citizens from illegal and arbitrary deprivation of liberties for suspects. It said the ECHR articles are binding on Turkey according to Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution and has the force of constitutional articles. The court also referred the Article 109 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which says arrested suspects have the right to demand to be tried in a reasonable time and demand release as well as to have the laws applied accurately.

Echoing its sister court's concerns, the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance that ruled for the release of detained suspects also said the Office of Chief Public Prosecutor must implement court judgments at once. It said Article 36(2) of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) mandates the prosecutor's office to execute court judgments immediately.

In a separate ruling on Monday, the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance also warned those who do not enforce court judgments will likely face formal charges on deprivation of liberties. The court filed the judgments with the National Judiciary Network Project (UYAP) and forwarded signed judgments to the prosecutor's office.

The İstanbul Courts of First Instance's order to release detainees was not enforced by the public prosecutors who were on duty on Saturday and Sunday, which was unprecedented in Turkish history.

The Penal Courts of Peace have hovered over the Turkish judiciary like a nightmare for months, operating contrary to constitutional and universal principles of law.

These courts, which assess even the slightest criticism directed at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an “insult” and which consider corruption investigations that became public in December 2013 as “coup attempts,” have also started to arrest people from every profession. Attorney Umut Kılıç from Afyonkarahisar, who was arrested recently after calling President Erdoğan a fascist, is but the latest example.

The Penal Courts of Peace are also known as “project courts” because they were set up by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in June 2014 specifically to fight against the Gülen movement, which is also known as the Hizmet movement and is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The government accuses the movement of being behind the corruption investigations that became public on Dec. 17, 2013, and in which various government officials and pro-government businessmen were implicated.

The Penal Courts of Peace turned to unlawfulness with a government-orchestrated operation that took place on July 22 of last year and targeted the police force, with the courts' arbitrariness reaching a peak on Dec. 14 with a government-led crackdown on the media during which police raided newspaper and TV channel headquarters.

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 April 2015, Monday