May 3, 2015

Jurists: Arrest of judges leaves black mark on Turkish judiciary

Major legal figures, including former Supreme Court of Appeals President Sami Selçuk, have criticized the arrest of two judges following their recent rulings for the release of a leading member of the media and dozens of police officers who are in pre-trial detention, and said the arrests of the judges have left a black mark on Turkish judicial history.

In yet another blow to judicial independence and the rule of law in Turkey, detention warrants were issued for İstanbul 29th Court of First Instance judge Metin Özçelik and judge Mustafa Başer from the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance on Thursday following their recent rulings for the release of a leading media member and dozens of police officers who have been held in pre-trial detention for months. Özçelik was arrested late on Thursday while Başer, who was not in İstanbul when the detention orders were issued, was referred to court and subsequently arrested on Friday.

Commenting on the issue, the jurists say judicial independence no longer exists in Turkey, adding that the country's judiciary has been proceeding toward “an order system,” meaning that the country's judicial system is now based on orders from the government.

Speaking with Today's Zaman, former Supreme Court of Appeals President Selçuk said he served in the Turkish judiciary for over 40 years, but he has never encountered such a feeling of shame about the system.

Expressing his frustration over the arrest of two judges, Selçuk said: “I have always been proud of being a Turk. However, they are destroying this pride. I am disturbed by the existence of such a judicial system on behalf of the public. We are approaching the Turkish Republic's 100th anniversary, but we have still not established a proper judiciary in the country.”

Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, who is a law professor, told Today's Zaman that the arrest of the judges has shown clearly that there is no longer an independent judiciary in Turkey, adding that the judges, who are charged with being members of “a terrorist group,” were actually arrested for their decision to release people the government did not want released.

“This shows that Turkey has entered a period during which judges will no longer be able to give verdicts independently in line with the Turkish Constitution, the law and their personal conviction. No judge can be arrested -- and they should not have been arrested -- for the verdicts they give,” Türk said.

He added that there is a constitutional provision that says judges are independent and they give their decisions in line with the Constitution, the law and their personal conviction, and the provision also adds that “judges cannot be dismissed.”

Former İstanbul Bar Association President Yücel Sayman, speaking with Today's Zaman, said Turkey has passed into “an order system,” emphasizing that there has been no judicial system in Turkey for the past two years, which is why he resigned “from the Turkish judiciary, but not from being a jurist” two years ago.

Evaluating the arrest of the judges, Sayman said the government, which wants to administer the judiciary, has punished the judges arbitrarily simply because these judges did not make their rulings in compliance with the government's requests.

The Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV) also slammed the arrest of the judges, stating that the fact that two judges were arrested over the decisions they had given is an “intimidation message” from the government to all Turkish judges.

Ex-prosecutor: Turkey no longer state of law but police state

Sabih Kanadoğlu, the former chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said: “If judges begin to be put under arrest on an order from politicians, this means that the law no longer exists in Turkey.”

Speaking to the Sözcü daily, Kanadoğlu said: “It reads in the Constitution that Turkey is a state of law, but it is no longer a state of law in practice. A country where a court decision is not implemented cannot be considered a state of law. What is left: a police state?
"There is a police state in Turkey. Nothing is correct regarding this incident [the arrest of the judges]. The fact that the decisions given by the 29th and 32nd courts are not being implemented is a crime. The decision given by the HSYK [to dismiss the judges] and the decision to arrest [the judges] are also crimes.”
The Denge Lawyers' Association also criticized the arrest of the judges in a written statement it released on Saturday, stating that Turkey's status as a state of law has been demolished with the arrest of the judges, adding that the principle of the separation of powers has been also eliminated with the recent arrests.

Saying that such practices did not even take place during coup eras, Denge Lawyers' Association President İbrahim Bakım added in the statement that the judiciary was not under the influence of the ruling party even during coup eras when fundamental rights and freedoms were violated in the most serious ways.

Turkish Bar Association (TBB) Chairman Metin Feyzioğlu said the judiciary has turned into a stick to punish those who are against the government. “Our people are fed up with the judiciary being used a punishment stick for the government. We have to solve this in cooperation,” Feyzioğlu said.

The İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance ruled April 25 for the release of 64 suspects -- Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO Hidayet Karaca and 63 police officers -- who have been held in pre-trial detention for months despite a lack of evidence about their involvement in any crime. Many believe they were arrested because of their roles in the revelation of corruption investigations that implicated people close to the government.

However, after apparent government intervention, public prosecutors over the past weekend refused to apply the court order. The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office claimed that the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance's order to release the suspects was void as the court was not authorized to rule on the issue. The İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace also issued a verdict that said the İstanbul 29th Court of First Instance is not authorized to determine whether a judge in a penal court of peace can be replaced.

The Second Chamber of the HSYK, the country's top judicial administrative body, announced on April 27 that the judges of the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance and the İstanbul 29th Court of First Instance had been removed. The HSYK announcement came very shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the HSYK was late convening to intervene on the issue.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 03 May 2015, Sunday