March 3, 2016

Fear of seeing the law is alive

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

The Constitutional Court has been playing a dual role nowadays in Turkey.

For cases that do not threaten the status quo, the court issues decisions which are in favor of freedom.

In those cases that have the potential to irritate the government, we witness different standards. The final verdicts in these cases have either constantly been delayed or the court tends to find no violation.

In the case of Hidayet Karaca, the director of the Samanyolu Media Group who stands accused of transmitting Fethullah Gülen's messages to police officers via TV series, the court, for example, decided that there was reasonable suspicion that he committed a crime and rejected his appeal.

In another case, introduced by journalist Mehmet Baransu, who is accused of espionage, publishing classified documents and so on, we see the Constitutional Court has not taken this case for more than one year, during which Baransu has been staying in a maximum security prison.

In the case concerning the arrest of Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara representative Erdem Gül, the court has adopted a different approach; in three months it concluded its review and rendered a verdict which stated that a violation of their rights had occurred. Dündar and Gül were consequently set free.

If I were to criticize this judgment, I would only say that we wish to see the same sensitivity on the part of the court toward all journalists currently in prison.

Apart from this, I believe they rightfully applied European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law to Dündar and Gül's case and set them free.

However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters are furious about this judgment and every day we hear their “critical remarks” about the court's decision -- even threats directed at members of the court.

One deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) went even further to say that the members of the court should be arrested for attempting a coup with this decision.

Erdoğan said he cannot respect this judgment and that he would not honor it.

No one could possibility understand this “honoring” part since Erdoğan is not a judge or a prosecutor who is in a position to decide whether or not to free Gül and Dündar.

He even criticizes the lower court for obeying the Constitutional Court's decision and freeing Gül and Dündar. This lower court, according to Erdoğan, should have rejected the decision of the Constitutional Court.

If Erdoğan's ruling elites did not have that much fear of seeing the legal mechanism working properly, they could think that this decision was a huge relief for them. The Constitutional Court only issued a decision that led to the release of two journalists whose arrest has attracted a lot of international attention. It did not take any major steps that can disturb the status quo in Turkey by, let's say, dealing a major blow to the witch hunt against members of the Gülen movement or by annulling the law concerning peace judges, which has turned into a guillotine of this government. And this decision of the court created the wrong image that the rule of law still exists in Turkey.

Instead of supporting the court, which would change the image that Turkey is being ruled by a dictator, they are trying to discredit and pressure the court over this decision.

The fear of being held accountable before the law must be so big that it has blurred all reasoning and they cannot see that this decision of the Constitutional Court, while not dealing any major blow to the status quo, would create an image that there is still separation of powers in Turkey and a functioning democracy.

They cannot tolerate any sign that the law is still alive.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 March 2016, Thursday