April 27, 2015

A judge steps outside the ‘waiting room’ to announce ‘emperor is naked’

Mümtazer Türköne

Much as the infamous Dreyfus affair in France revealed so much about the French justice system, likewise the decision rendered by the İstanbul 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance that STV president Hidayet Karaca and the many imprisoned police officers involved in a corruption investigation should be released has also cast important light on the workings of the Turkish justice system. Suddenly, all the illegal standards are clear for everyone to see. The fact that the court's ruling on this case has not been implemented has proven just how correct the ruling itself was.

The reasons given by the court for its decision are based on the most basic principles of universal law, and read like a manifesto on judicial independence and the entire justice system itself. In short, it has been declared in Turkey that the “justice system is not independent” and that the “system is not functioning.” As for the prosecutor's offices, which have refused to implement the court's ruling due to political pressures, and the ruling party itself, which has declared war on the judges who handed down the decision, they now stand as veritable proof that our justice system is not independent and that there is no more assurance of fair magistracy in this country.

The decision handed down by the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance also lays bare the essence of the lower criminal courts created by the ruling party with the express intent of taking control of and suppressing the opposition within the justice system.

Pushed into a corner because of the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption investigations, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to create his own private court using the legislative organ to make this happen. These are courts that are able to turn out arrest orders in the same amount of time it takes in a normal court to see a prosecutor provide a list of allegations and formally open a case. These “arrest orders” are important tools in creating pressure on the press, pushing back voices of opposition and defanging security officials instrumental in the unfolding of corruption investigations. These are not courts that actually carry out the word of the law; instead, they send those who oppose the ruling party to prison, on the basis of trumped up accusations. Karaca, a concrete example of this, has now been in prison for five months thanks to the judges at these newly created courts. So have the police force members who ought to have been released following on the decision from the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance.

The strongest dimension of these courts is that they are able to close off paths towards justice. The only place where one can formally challenge decisions rendered by these courts is in these courts.

As for the judges that staff these courts, they are chosen from a pool of names close to the ruling party. Most judges don't actually accept the assignment. Those who do are gotten rid of the moment they render a decision not to the liking of the ruling party.

The court's recent un-implement decision, rendered despite the ruling party's control over the justice system, is based on Article 27 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK). According to this article, any demands to appeal decisions from the Erdoğan-created penal courts of peace must be made in criminal courts. And so, the 29th Criminal Court of First Instance accepted the appeals demand and the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance handed down the decision to release the imprisoned police.

And so, the court's decision is not only based on the most essential principles of the law, but is also based on Article 27 of the CMK.

In the meantime, pro-government paper Sabah published what are essentially open threats to all judges. And the prime minister, speaking at an election rally at Gümüşhane, uttered words that clearly aim to suppress and place pressure on the justice system.

In the end, the ruling from the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance was not abided by and no one was released from prison. But at least one thing this situation has succeeded in doing is revealing in all its starkness the fact that the Turkish justice system is definitely not independent.

Erdoğan has noted in the past that the parliamentary system is in the waiting room. And apparently, the entire Turkish justice system is also being kept on hold in this same room.

At least one judge's decision to venture outside this waiting room allowed him to tell the whole world the “emperor is naked.”

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