October 8, 2015

Independent report finds ample evidence of Turkey’s breach of ECHR

A report prepared by UK lawmakers and legal experts upon the request of the Turkish Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) that they investigate violations of the rule of law and persecutions targeting the Gülen movement concluded that there is ample evidence to establish breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other treaties to which Turkey is a party.

During a discussion on Thursday of the findings of the report, which was prepared by the Rt. Hon. Lord Harry Woolf CH, Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell KCMG QC, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Garnier QC MP and Sarah Palin, a practicing barrister in London, GYV representative Fatih Ceran said the authors of the report consider the witch hunts and other illegal actions targeting institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, to be cases of discrimination, according to the ECHR.

Summarizing breaches of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, which have targeted the Gülen movement in particular since December 2013, the approximately 100-page report stated that these violations “represent a serious setback for Turkish democracy and its respect for human rights.” The authors of the report stress that they were asked by the GYV to conduct an independent desk-based inquiry into the actions of the Turkish government, its institutions and its officials against supporters of the Gülen movement.

During Thursday's discussion in İstanbul, which was attended mostly by foreign journalists and was organized by the GYV's Medialog, Professor İştar Gözaydın and lawyer Coşkun Yorulmaz, who had provided assistance to the authors, answered questions, as did Ceran.

Gözaydın gave examples of several grave violations of the law and of media freedoms before emphasizing that civil liberties are under threat in Turkey. In her opinion, in addition to the imprisonment of 49 journalists and problems such as the exclusion of the opposition from policy-making processes, the failure to protect civil liberties is the main issue.

Yorulmaz highlighted the significance of the report, as it comes from independent observers who are experts in their fields. In Yorulmaz's opinion, the Gülen movement has been experiencing the apex of a trend of ignoring the rule of law.

Stating that he represents imprisoned journalists Hidayet Karaca and Gültekin Avcı, Yorulmaz said it is beyond belief that they have been accused of leading an armed terrorist organization. Avcı, who was once Karaca's lawyer, is behind bars because of the contents of four of his newspaper articles.

It only takes 2 willing prosecutors to violate the rule of law

In response to a question from a foreign journalist about how a whole judicial system could succumb to blatant unlawfulness, Yorulmaz stated that although the judiciary has always been politicized, the situation has never been this bad. “You only need two prosecutors to silence the media and a handful of judges who make politically motivated decisions,” Yorulmaz explained. His remarks were supported by the findings of the report, which referenced Law 6545, which was adopted in June 2014 and created the system of criminal judges of peace, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself referred to as “project” courts. According to the report, serious doubts have been raised about the constitutionality of these courts, especially regarding the principles of the rule of law and the natural judge.

In response to a question about the roles of the constitutional court and its checks and balances, Gözaydın said that currently there are no signs of it lacking checks and balances, but that due process is taking longer than usual. However, Yorulmaz pointed out that the constitutional court was quick to make decisions on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) law and the Twitter ban, but does not act quickly in other cases.

Indeed, Yorulmaz claimed that at a larger level there is a “selective application of the law, which is not law at all.” Providing an example to support his argument, Yorulmaz said certain schools he represents are inspected in a biased manner. “Inspectors come with a prepared list instead of a random one,” he stated, referring to police-led inspections of Gülen-inspired schools.

Another case Yorulmaz mentioned showed the extent to which anti-terror laws are used liberally in Turkey to intimidate regular citizens. He related an incident in which a housewife was taken from Bodrum to İstanbul police headquarters for interrogation regarding Tweets she had written, because of the anti-terror laws. Yorulmaz argued that accusations of terrorist activity make it easier for prosecutors and judges to arrest suspects. However, he said, “The scale of persecution is unprecedented and nobody is immune from this,” in today's Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 8 October 2015, Thursday