May 1, 2015

Turkish judges who ruled for the release of Karaca arrested

An Istanbul court arrested two judges who ruled for the release of journalist Hidayet Karaca and some police officials, who have been kept in pre-trial detention for months.

Istanbul 29th Court of First Instance judge Metin Özçelik and Judge Mustafa Başer from the Istanbul 32nd Court of First Instance were referred to the Bakırköy 2nd High Criminal Court for arrest later on Thursday.

Özçelik was arrested late on Thursday while Başer, who was outside İstanbul when the detention orders were issued, was referred to court and subsequently arrested on Friday.

Speaking to the press by phone as he was going to the Bakırköy courthouse, Özçelik said his arrest would be against the law. Stating that detention orders can be issued for judges and prosecutors only over very serious crimes and where they are caught red-handed in wrongdoing, the judge said such a move is unprecedented in the history of law and that Turkey is seeing “extraordinary” times.

The move comes just days after the two judges were discharged by the country’s highest judicial body – the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) - in a move backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Başer, who was outside Istanbul, was criticized his colleague's arrest on Twitter as he was on his way to the courthouse. "They will probably arrest me as well. I am going to the courthouse with this in mind. Could a person who is suspected to flee the country do this?" he said.

"It is the conscience of the Turkish nation which was arrested, not a judge," he further said.

Early morning on May 1, Judge Mustafa Başer has arrived at courthouse to surrender to arrest.

The judges are reportedly accused of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”

The detention and possible arrest of the judges is first of its kind in Turkey, as judges and prosecutors can only be tried by the High Court of Appeals.

The judges were not allowed to make their defense. Claiming that the judges were acting upon orders of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whose international faith-based Hizmet movement has been targeted by Erdoğan as an enemy of the state, the president had stated “I would hope that the HSYK would reach the ideal conclusion with its ruling.”

The judges ruled on Saturday the recusation and for the release of the jailed Samanyolu Group CEO Hidayet Karaca and the police officials, who have controversially spent months behind bars without a trial.

After apparent government intervention, public prosecutors over the weekend refused to apply the court order. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office claimed that the Istanbul 32nd Court of First Instance's order to release the suspects was void, as the court was not authorized to rule on the issue. The Istanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace, which was on duty on Saturday, also issued a verdict that said the Istanbul 29th Court of First Instance was not authorized to determine whether a judge in a penal court of peace could be replaced.

The Second Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the country's top judicial administrative body, announced on Monday that the judges of the Istanbul 32nd Court of First Instance and the Istanbul 29th Court of First Instance were removed.

The HSYK announcement came very shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the HSYK was actually late in convening to intervene on the issue.

Özçelik, the judge who had accepted a petition by the lawyers of Karaca and 63 police chiefs for a replacement of the judges hearing their clients' cases at the penal courts of peace, earlier said his decision is within the boundaries of the laws and that he never handed down unlawful rulings in his career.

Karaca was detained as part of a major media crackdown on Dec. 14, 2014, while the imprisoned police officials were detained in operations starting on July 22, 2014 on charges of spying and illegal wiretapping in two separate probes. They were later arrested.

Karaca was arrested as part of a government crackdown on the media which targeted 27 people, including scriptwriters, a graphic designer and three former police chiefs, all of whom were arrested on charges of leading a terrorist network. The other detainees, including the Zaman daily's Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, were released pending trial.

Published on BGNNews, 01 May 2015, Friday