Judicial reform should not be only for show

Judicial reform should not be only for show

Tension with Syria is not the only concern of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan nowadays. Yesterday, for example, after threatening Syria once again not to test the patience of Turkey and a ceremony to unveil a Turkish-made training aircraft in Ankara in the morning hours, he spent the afternoon in his office working on a new (third) judicial amendment package with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ and a number of legal experts of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

The government is planning to bring the package to Parliament on Saturday, June 30 and try to get it approved the same night before Parliament goes into summer recess on July 1.

The most debated and controversial parts of the package are those related with the specially authorized courts (SAC – ÖYM in Turkish). Bozdağ has indirectly confirmed press reports saying the SACs could be abolished but new Terrorism Crime Courts could be established instead.

The SACs have been a target for Turkish opposition parties, especially after the start of large-scale probes and cases like “Ergenekon,” “Balyoz” and “OdaTV,” which are based on indictments claiming failed coup d’etat plots against the government and the KCK case based on indictments alleging an urban organization of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Opposition parties and human rights organization have been claiming that because of the unlimited authority given by the prosecutors and judges, not only those suspects having evidence and witnesses against them but also those lacking any evidence but known opponents of the government, journalists and writers, have been put on trial and in jail as a tactic to suppress opposition; they also claim that the SACs have lost their impartiality and turned into tools of the government.

The government has been under pressure from both the inside and outside for some time because of journalists, writers, intellectuals and politicians of Kurdish origin (like mayors) who have been in jail without being convicted; in some cases for more than three years now. In the meantime, opposition parties, namely the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have shown candidates among them for the 2011 elections and currently eight inmates have been elected to Parliament, though they are not permitted to be sworn in and get out until they are sentenced.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP, has been asking for the abolishment of the SACs for some time and welcomed the leaked reports of change. Yet human rights defenders warn that the abolishment of the SACs should not be only for show and they should not continue in the form of “terrorism” courts. But Kılıçdaroğlu’s welcoming statement implies backdoor negotiations between the government and the opposition on the amendments.

The draft, as leaked, makes it more difficult for prosecutors and judges to open cases against the media, thus could lead to a certain relief in that field. It took some time for the Turkish government to see that unlimited authority for prosecutors and judges could damage justice as well, but as a Turkish proverb goes, it is a virtue to know to correct yourself, yet it is better to wait for the exact outcome.