December 22, 2015

Judicial independence rendered obsolete in 2015

The impartiality and independence of the Turkish judiciary hit rock bottom in 2015 as former legislators, prosecutors and even judges were jailed based on charges that lacked any legal basis as well as entire corporations being seized at the whim of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which is bent on eradicating any and all who fail to comply with their Islamist ideology.

Most recently, former Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy İlhan İşbilen was arrested on Dec. 15 as part of government-initiated operations targeting the so-called “parallel structure,” a term used to vilify members of the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a grassroots civil society organization.

A number of businessmen, teachers, lawyers and police officers who follow the teachings of Fethullah Gülen have been targeted by the AK Party since a major graft was made public on Dec. 17, 2013. Erdoğan has accused the movement of plotting to overthrow his government.

Erdoğan has said he will do whatever it takes to eliminate the “parallel structure,” even if it requires a “witch hunt.” In May 2014, Erdoğan publicly advised AK Party supporters not to send their children to schools affiliated with the movement, vowing, “We will not even give water [to the movement's members].”

However, it was not only sympathizers of the Gülen movement who were targeted by the AK Party-controlled judiciary as İstanbul 29th Court of First Instance Judge Metin Özçelik and İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance Judge Mustafa Başer were detained on April 30 following their rulings to release 64 people -- Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO Hidayet Karaca and 63 police officers -- who had been held in pre-trial detention for months.

Özçelik was arrested on the day of his ruling, while Başer was referred to court and arrested on May 1. They were charged with membership in a terrorist organization and plotting a coup against the government, in addition to “engaging in misconduct in public office” and “compromising secret information.” The two judges are currently still in jail pending trial.

Karaca was detained as part of a major media crackdown on Dec. 14, 2014, just three days before the first anniversary of the revelation of investigations of alleged large-scale corruption that implicated several senior members of government.

In addition to the detainment of dissidents or those deemed by the AK Party to be opposition, the internal security law -- also known as the domestic security package -- was passed in Parliament early on the 27th of March, a month of struggle that included brawls and significant tension between the AK Party and opposition deputies.

The security bill gave provincial governors and the interior minister, if emergency rule is needed for more than one province, the authority to declare martial law. The domestic security package was criticized as a blatant violation of the Constitution that gives the government sweeping new powers.

According to the bill, governors are also able to intervene in criminal procedures and processes by bypassing public prosecutors. The involvement of the governor in the judicial process is a clear violation of judicial independence by the government.

Also, the police are able to, upon instructions given by a governor or a chief of police in a town, detain a person described as a suspect under custody for 48 hours based on “reasonable suspicion” without needing a prosecutor's instruction. According to the bill, the suspect is not allowed to see his lawyer within the 48 hours.

The bill also allows police officers to wiretap telephones for 48 hours before a court order is issued. The police will need to submit a request for a wiretap within 24 hours, but the judge is only required to deliver a judgment on the issue within 48 hours.

Last but not least, property rights and the right to free enterprise were completely disregarded when a government-backed court unlawfully took over Koza İpek Holding's 22 companies, including the third-largest media outlet in Turkey, by abusing the justice system.

The move was criticized for not being a seizure of a bankrupt group to protect shareholders and the public at large, but rather for being a blatant intervention in the mass media ahead of the crucial national election that took place on Nov. 1.

The holding, active in energy, mining and the media, was one of the most profitable conglomerates in Turkey and the third largest contributor to Treasury coffers in terms of corporate taxes. The trustees appointed to Koza İpek Holding were later found to have strong ties to the AK Party.

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 December 2015, Tuesday