April 27, 2015

Bar associations criticize noncompliance of public prosecutors with court order for release of Karaca, policemen

Bar associations have spoken out against the noncompliance of public prosecutors with a court order for the release of Samanyolu Broadcasting Group CEO Hidayet Karaca and scores of police officers who were arrested and detained pending trial in government-orchestrated operations targeting the police force, saying such a step will destroy trust in the rule of law.

In statements to the Zaman daily on Monday, heads of several provincial bar associations as well as the deputy head of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) underlined that the failure to observe a court ruling represents a blatant violation of the rule of law.

“The noncompliance with this verdict represents the best indication that the security of law has been done away with in this country,” TTB deputy head Berra Besler said.

In an apparent result of growing political pressure on the members of Turkey's judiciary, public prosecutors refused on the weekend to enforce the court order that said journalist Karaca and 63 imprisoned police officers be released as there is no solid evidence against them.

The İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace, which was on duty on Saturday, claimed that the verdict of release given by the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance is void as the court is not authorized to pronounce on the issue.

“A court is ruling for release, while another is objecting [to the release]. Such chaos reveals that the reliability of law has been eliminated in a major way,” Besler added.

The İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance on Saturday evening ruled for the release of the suspects who have been kept under pre-trial detention for months despite a lack of evidence substantiating their incarceration.

Noting that it is a violation of the rule of law to evaluate a court's decision, the TTB deputy head said: “We are where words fail.”

Karaca, who has been held in prison without any indictment or any reason for the extension of his arrest, was detained as part of a major media crackdown on Dec. 14, 2014, aimed at intimidating critical media outlets. The operation came just three days before the first anniversary of the massive corruption investigations of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013.

As for the imprisoned police officers, they were detained in operations starting on July 22 on charges of spying and illegal wiretapping in two separate probes and were later arrested.

“If you are not implementing a court verdict, then you cannot talk about Turkey being a state in which the rule of law reigns,” said Orhan Öngöz, head of the Trabzon Bar Association.

“Then nobody can rely on protection of the rule of law. There is chaos if one cannot rely on the law," Öngöz added.

The operations against the police are widely believed to be an act of retribution by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for the two corruption investigations following which four Cabinet ministers left their posts.

According to Öngöz, a prosecutor's office does not have the right to say that it does not recognize the court order.

Noting that it is a violation of the Constitution not to obey a court order, Öngöz warned that Turkey would have to face suits for damages in an international court as the country is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Penal Courts of Peace, in which a single judge gives a verdict, were established last year in order to pave the way for the government to increase its sway over the judiciary, which already suffers from heavy government intervention. Being newly designed, there is ambiguity regarding the scope of their authority.

For Tunga Bacanlı, head of the Antalya Bar Association, the announcement by the İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace that the other court's ruling is void is a scandal that will go down in the history of law in Turkey.

He said: “These operations were previously planned. They [Penal Courts of Peace] reveal by their performance why they were established. All those who did not observe the verdict given by the court, whether they be prosecutors or [some other] public servants, are guilty of malpractice.”

The lawyers of the suspects petitioned the İstanbul 29th Court of First Instance for a replacement of the judges hearing their clients' cases at the Penal Courts of Peace. The court accepted the lawyers' request on April 20 and commissioned the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance to examine the lawyers' requests for a release of their clients, and it ruled for their release.

Gazi Çıtırık (head of Adana Bar Association): "It is a legal scandal for the administration not to put into effect a verdict of a court which is under the protection of the Constitution. The judiciary is under heavy pressure and threats. The specially authorized Penal Courts of Peace, which are not in line with the principle of a natural judge and within our judicial system, should be abolished immediately.”

Gökhan Bozkurt (head of Aydın Bar Association): "Court rulings need to be implemented by prosecutors immediately. Any block against this [court ruling] represents a violation of the law. Moreover, a verdict by a court of first instance cannot be rendered void by a verdict of a Penal Court of Peace according to our legislation. The perception that the judiciary is not independent, that those in power apply pressure over the judiciary is widespread among the public. If trust in justice is harmed in a society, then that would [also] seriously harm the state. If court verdicts are not to be applied, then the courts might as well be closed down.”

Ali Arslan (head of Manisa Bar Association): "The people for whom the court issued a verdict of release should be set free. A prosecutor does not have the right to deny even for a moment freedom [to these people]. It is legally not possible for people who were released by the court to be kept in prison."

Melik Derindere (head of Amasya Bar Association): "It is a crime not to observe verdicts given by a court. The Turkish judicial system has been going through an unprecedented chaotic period. The reason for that is arbitrariness and intervention of those in power in the judiciary.”

On Monday, heads of bar associations of two other provinces also criticized the noncompliance of public prosecutors with the court order for the release of Samanyolu CEO Karaca and the police officers, also underlying that it is not possible for a verdict given by a court to overruled by another.

Dilem Aksoy, head of the Osmaniye Bar Association, said it was clear that a court cannot declare a verdict void that was given by another court.

“As jurists, we are unfortunately deeply affected by what is going on. Courts are only places where justice is served. In our opinion also, they should remain so,” Aksoy said.

Enis Gül, head of the Bitlis Bar Association, said that neither he as head of a bar association nor the public has any trust left in the justice system in Turkey.

Underlining that the judiciary needs to be impartial and independent, Gül said: “It looks as if nobody takes pains for justice to be done. Our only wish is that the judiciary pulls itself together and [starts] doing its fundamental job.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 April 2015, Monday