A troubled state of law in Turkey

A troubled state of law in Turkey

Relations between governments and the judiciary have always been painful in Turkey.

Judges and prosecutors have always been accused – by the opposition of the day and civil society – of being under the influence of political power and political forces. There were times when the military was pointed at, and now it is the current Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.

It is true that in order to improve the legal system, the AK Parti government has passed four judicial reform packages through the Parliament it dominates since it took power 11 years ago. It is also true that Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has vowed to bring new packages to the attention of Parliament in the near future, which is in itself an admittance that not enough has been done so far.

For example, there is the “long detention periods” issue. Most of those tried in Ergenekon and its related cases (where hundreds have been on trial for nearly five years now, accused of conspiring to overthrow the government) and the KCK trial (where thousands are being tried and accused of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is currently holding peace talks with the government) are in jail. Some of them have been inside for five years now without being convicted, but still under arrest. Many also complain that they are prevented from exercising their rights to defend themselves properly by the court. Those cases have been matters of criticism in international forums, including the Turkey Progress Reports from the European Union, and domestically, too. Apart from opposition parties, President Abdullah Gül and Haşim Kılıç, the head of the Constitutional Court, have criticized long detentions and the issue of keeping elected members of Parliament in jail without conviction on a number of occasions. They have not found any echo from the government.

Last week, the Constitutional Court annulled an article in the third judicial package of the government saying that in cases of state security, arrests without conviction could be up to 10 years. That could bring the release of at least 103 prisoners. Despite the ruling and the interpretation of top judge Kılıç, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ still said judges do not have to make final rulings on the affected cases within a year. This will bring Turkey right up to the critical presidential elections, and it is no secret that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to become the next president with extra powers and fewer checks and balances.

That is not the only example of the troubled state of law on Turkey. An Istanbul court permitted last week the release of a shopkeeper who attacked peaceful demonstrators with a machete, wounding people. He justified his attack as a response to the protests hurting his business. The same Istanbul courts are doing overtime to arrest the demonstrators by using unnecessary force, encouraged further by the bonus given by the prime minister because of their “legendary” performance in suppressing the Gezi Park protests, which had been criticized widely both inside and outside of Turkey.

The most recent act was a move in Parliament earlier this week. By adding a sentence to a bill debated in Parliament right before its voting, the government took over the authority of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) over technical projects. The TMMOB has been an active supporter of the Gezi Park protests.

As the examples mount up, the pressure on the government from the suffering layers of society also mounts. Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek sees the cure as being in the work for the new Constitution ongoing in Parliament, but hopes are fading there, too.