February 13, 2016

Former justice minister slams trustee takeovers, ’unprecedented’ pressure on judiciary

Hikmet Sami Türk, a jurist and a renowned Turkish politician who served as a justice minister in the past decade, has denounced what he called “unprecedented” political pressure on the judiciary, saying the judges and prosecutors were not subject to such intimidation even during periods of military coup.

Speaking in an interview with Today's Zaman, Türk also criticized appointment of trustees to take over the management of privately-owned companies affiliated with Gülen movement. “Appointments of trustees have nothing to do with the law. It has become a trend; they appoint trustees everywhere,” he said.

Tens of private companies, including commercial firms, a publishing house, newspapers, television channels and, most recently, prep schools have been placed under trustee management over the past months in what is widely believed to be a part of a government-backed witch hunt against the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a war against the movement after a corruption scandal implicating people in his inner circle in December 2013, accusing a network of movement's sympathizers within the police and judiciary of staging a coup against his government. He vowed that he will carry out a witch hunt if this is what is necessary and repeatedly urged the judiciary and the government institutions to do everything in their power to support his fight. Thousands of judges and prosecutors have been reassigned, sacked or prosecuted in the aftermath of the scandal while the corruption charges were dropped after new prosecutors were assigned to the case.

Prosecutors then ordered detentions of scores of people on charges ranging from illegal wiretapping to forming, aiding or financially supporting a “terrorist organization” which they call FETÖ, or Fethullahist terrorist organization. Hundreds of police officials, journalists, bank employees, shop owners and even housewives have been in jails, some for more than a year, awaiting trial.

Türk said the claim that a terrorist organization by the name of FETÖ is “ludicrous.”

“It is incomprehensible. I wonder what proof they will present to support the claim that a terrorist organization is being run from across the Atlantic. An old man residing in Pennsylvania is accused of running a terrorist organization in Turkey,” Türk said.

Türk, a jurist who served as the justice minister under a coalition government led by the Democratic Left Party (DSP) between 1999 and 2002, also said the government's bid to have Gülen extradited from the US is bound not only to fail but also to embarrass Turkey.

Türk's remarks come amid deepening worries over growing authoritarianism in Turkey which has seen journalists being jailed, critics of the government from all walks of life prosecuted and judges and prosecutors sacked, reassigned and even jailed.

The former minister complained that judges and prosecutors are getting arrested on trumped up charges and one of the most fundamental rights, the right to defense, is being violated.

Referring to the arrests of two judges for ruling for the release of a number of suspects arrested on charges of forming and membership of a terrorist organization in May 2015, Türk said the move was “unacceptable” and aimed at intimidating the judiciary.

“I do not remember anything like that in the history of our judiciary. Can a judge be arrested because he does not see sufficient grounds for an arrest and thus rules for release?” Türk asked. “All judges and prosecutors are intimidated. They are forced to issue rulings that would please the politicians.”

High court of human rights

Türk also called for establishment of a high court to take up human rights cases, partly because rights violations complaints have come to dominate the workload of the Constitutional Court after it was allowed to hear individual complaints in 2011.

“Rights violations at the hands of a judiciary that cannot resist political pressure can only be prevented through the formation of a high court of human rights,” he said. “Just like there is the European Court of Human Rights in Europe, we need to have such a court in Turkey,” he said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 February 2016, Saturday