April 20, 2015

Turkey’s security, intelligence and judicial capacity crippled

Lale Kemal

As part of an ongoing massive purge within Turkey's security apparatus, around 1,786 senior police officers were forced to retire this past week.

In a statement released late on Friday, April 17, the National Police Department said it has decided to force 1,786 police officers into retirement, including 1,142 first-degree police chiefs. This first-ever massive purge in Turkey's republican history is part of the major reassignments and removals, as well as the detention of hundreds of police officers, that has taken place since the disclosure of a high-profile corruption and bribery investigation in December 2013. Those purged include names involved in the criminal investigations of the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot plans in addition to those who conducted government-related graft probes.

The National Police Department cited the highly controversial internal security law, under which the law governing the police was also amended, for the move to retire thousands of police officers.

Since the graft probe was disclosed, more than 45,000 police officers and 2,500 judges and prosecutors have been reassigned to new jobs. In addition, hundreds of police officers have been put in prison since the graft probe was made public but later derailed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It is an open secret that the massive purge within the security and judicial institutions was mainly an act of punishment for those police officers as well as the members of the judiciary who unearthed the high-profile corruption scandal.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister, declared an all-out war against the government's former ally, the Hizmet movement, headed by US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, accusing it of orchestrating the high-profile probe of alleged corruption in government and business circles that emerged in December 2013.

But the fact that the president was also implicated in the corruption investigation, as well as some of his family members -- although they deny any wrongdoing, led to a widespread belief that Erdoğan has been engaged in a strategy of survival by creating an enemy, i.e., the Hizmet movement. In other words, he initiated an artificial war against Gülen to avoid being prosecuted.

Hizmet followers are represented within the judiciary and the police. Yet, the government has not produced any evidence to support the accusations leveled against the Hizmet movement that it initiated a plan to unseat the government's rule. And, to the contrary, the government has taken several legal actions to prevent the graft probe from being investigated.

Since the emergence of the graft probe, there have been amendments made to the law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and a subsequent dismissal of staff and numerous reassignments of judges and prosecutors. This has killed the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and the separation of powers. These legal measures were coupled with policies to create a new police force loyal to the government.

Meanwhile, a law on the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), adopted in April of last year, allows wiretapping and surveillance to be conducted by Turkish intelligence services without judicial oversight, which goes against democratic standards. Changes made to the MİT law have increased government surveillance powers while protecting intelligence personnel from investigation.

Moreover, the government has continued limiting the freedom of expression and the right to assemble.

All of the government's restrictive measures remind us of post-coup legislative moves that we have seen before in Turkey.

The restructuring of the judiciary also paved the way for criminal investigations against alleged pro-Gülen police officers and jurists on charges of establishing a criminal organization and attempting to unseat the government through eavesdropping.

To sum up, President Erdoğan and the AKP government have crippled Turkey's crucial institutions, preventing them from functioning properly by not only enacting laws to this end but also by carrying out massive purges within them. This situation has the potential to further weaken the capacity of Turkey's law and order activities, its fight against organized crime and acts of terrorism, as well as its ability to collect sensitive intelligence through its spy agency.

Hence, the Turkish state is moving toward a serious crisis in the face of weakened security, intelligence and judicial capacity.

Published on Today's Zaman, 20 April 2015, Monday