When Turkey’s Constitutional Court took a fateful decision on Feb. 25 to release imprisoned journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the Western media hailed it. Here was the proof that at least some checks-and-balances still existed in Turkey, as there is some “independent judiciary” left.
Notably, this argument was put forward by none other than Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
earlier this week during a press conference in Brussels. Answering criticisms about the lack of a free press in Turkey, the prime minister referred to the Constitutional Court and defined its recent decision as proof of an independent judiciary.
This was nice to hear, of course, but only until one flies from Brussels back to Turkey and sees what the current regime actually thinks of the Constitutional Court and the plans for its future (by “regime” I am not referring to the Davutoğlu government, but rather the much higher and bigger pyramid of power spearheaded by the president).
What this regime thinks about the Constitutional Court is actually very clear: It is very angry at the top court and is now mobilizing to curb its powers, even perhaps to fully disestablish it in the “new civilian constitution.”
This anger is visible everywhere. First, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
spoke several times against the Constitutional Court, blaming it for “violating the constitution.” When the court released a 33-page document explaining the legal basis of its decision, Erdoğan said he did not have time to read the document, and repeated his accusations against the court, which were actually all refuted in the document.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, an Erdoğan confidante, went further and blamed the top court for “killing law.” The pro-Erdoğan media went even further, with headlines and editorials every single day demonizing the high court as a treacherous body occupied by the nefarious “parallels.” Here is an illegitimate “tutelage” on the “national will,” they keep saying, which must be subdued by the “nation” (i.e. the president).
No wonder plans are now being made to fix this systemic problem. As pro-Erdoğan daily Yeni Şafak announced joyfully on March 8, the government is now working on a new set of legal amendments which will curb the top court’s authority to intervene in local court’s processes for “the protection of the violation of rights.” Since some of these “local courts” are clearly designed and mastered by the government, you can read this as the elimination of the last stronghold of an independent judiciary.
If the top court’s authority is really curbed, or somehow intimidated or transformed, then we will really have to say goodbye to the notion of human rights in Turkey as a higher value than the political ambitions of the ruling party. The only remaining hope will be the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which still has the right to penalize Turkey, as a state, for “violation of rights.”
But, well, Erdoğan seems to have solved that problem as well, for he declared, regarding the ECHR, “We will pay whatever their penalty is; it is not binding.” So, we do not want EU legal standards in Turkey, we’d rather find ways to override them.
By looking at all this, I feel really pessimistic about Turkey’s near future. Let’s all just pray and hope that this is an exaggerated pessimism.