September 28, 2015

Report: Gov’t carrying out systematic human rights violations since Dec. 17 probe

The Turkish government has been perpetrating “systematic human rights violations” on Turkey's judiciary, security force and media outlets critical of the administration ever since two graft probes implicating government officials were revealed in December 2013, according to a damning report by British lawyers.

The report, written by Lord Harry Woolf, the former lord chief justice of England and Wales; Sir Edward Garnier QC, the former solicitor general; Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, the director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law; and Sarah Palin, a barrister specializing in media law, concludes that since December 2013, the Turkish government has perpetrated systematic human rights violations that would justify legal action at international level, most likely before the European Court of Human Rights.

“We have analyzed the actions taken by the Turkish government and its agents since December 2013 and have unanimously concluded that there has been a distinct reversal in the reform process that had been taking place since Turkey began accession talks with the European Union in 2005,” the four British lawyers state.

The critical, 95 page-long document estimates that approximately 40,000 members of the Turkish security forces, civil servants and members of the judiciary have been removed from their posts since two major corruption investigations were revealed in December 2013.

On Dec. 17, 2013, Turkey woke to breaking-news of detainments of dozens of high-profile figures, including the sons of four Cabinet ministers in then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government.

The investigations revealed the largest corruption and bribery network in the history of the Turkish Republic. Several members of the AK Party government as well as members of Erdoğan's own family were implicated. The charges ranged from engaging in acts of corruption and bribery to transferring gold to Iran in order to undermine US-led sanctions.

The revelation of the Dec. 17 probes forced four ministers in Erdoğan's Cabinet to retire. Also, several businessmen close to the administration, along with several of Erdoğan's family members, were accused on charges ranging from corruption to facilitating an illegal gold trade to undermine an embargo on Iran.

According to the report, titled “A Report on the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights in Turkey Since December 2013,” the main target of these abuses has been supporters of the Gülen movement, a grassroots civil society network inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The term “parallel structure” was then invented by Erdoğan and widely used by himself and his associates within the AK Party to demonize sympathizers of the Gülen movement. Erdoğan holds the movement responsible for the 2013 graft probes.

The report holds that the AK Party's actions towards the Gülen movement have violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as other human rights treaties which Turkey is party to.

The violations include “the denial of the investigation's protagonists' rights to liberty, security, and a fair trial, following the exertion of executive control over Turkey's judiciary; the suppression of freedom of expression – particularly within the media; and the purging and victimization of supporters of the Gülen movement and the obstruction of their institutions and associations.”

“Since the December 2013 corruption scandal, the AKP [AK Party] government has taken unprecedented steps to exert executive authority over Turkey's judiciary, police and prosecuting authorities,” the report summary states.

The report points out that all the staff working for the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) were replaced by staff nominated by the justice minister -- a move ruled unconstitutional by Turkey's Constitutional Court.

The document also bashes the creation of new criminal courts of peace with extensive powers over criminal investigations. The criminal courts of peace, which wield extraordinary powers, have been heavily criticized due to their closed-circuit system of appeals.

It adds that by undermining the independence of the judiciary, the AK Party made possible the detention and arrests of outspoken media figures and hundreds of police officers involved in the anticorruption operation.

The AK Party's crackdown on media outlets critical of the administration reached a new high in December 2014 when Hidayet Karaca, the CEO of Samanyolu Broadcasting, was detained during government-led police raids on independent media outlets, along with 31 suspects, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı.

Karaca was arrested last December on the “dubious allegation” of establishing a terrorist organization, according to the report.

“The arrest and detention of journalists, media executives, police officers, public prosecutors and judges who are perceived to be supporters of the Hizmet movement, and their treatment in custody, has raised serious concerns about violations of their right to liberty and security,” the report notes.

“From the perspective of international human rights law, we consider that the Turkish government has perpetrated significant human rights violations against supporters of the Gülen movement that would justify legal action before the European Court of Human Rights, in the absence of suitable remedies in Turkey.”

Sir Edward Garnier, one of the authors of the report, recently told the UK-based Guardian daily: “Given the way the [Turkish] courts are being undermined … there's an absence of any realistic prospect of a remedy in the domestic courts.” The Constitutional Court remains “a last beacon,” he added, but is overwhelmed with cases. “It's possible, we believe, for those who are aggrieved to go directly to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They would have to take legal advice but the situation is not too optimistic in Turkey.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 September 2015, Monday