Not a very bright start for a reform

Not a very bright start for a reform

The recent judicial reform package has been described by the government as another step forward toward an advanced democracy, since it aims to deliver justice better and more quickly.

One of the key elements of the reform was the status of the Specially Authorized Courts (SAC). The SACs were inserted into the system some six years ago in order to judge cases related to terrorism and other organized crimes. And together with a series of amendments to the Turkish penal code that included coup d’etat attempts as crimes of terrorism, the SACs were able to open probes and then court cases against suspected coup conspiracies against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. The cases, with their widely known names of Ergenekon, Balyoz, OdaTV and KCK, are the result of the work of the SACs since 2007. The problem with those cases started to be understood as a year passed by, as the cases have been opened, but none of them have ended yet. The SACs themselves had started to become a part of the problem with the judicial system.

There are eight deputies in jail for the time being; five from the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), two from the CHP and one from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Long arrest periods and extension of arrests without the need to justify them due to the nearly limitless authority of the SAC judges and prosecutors have been a matter of criticism, inside and outside. And when an SAC prosecutor wanted interrogate the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) because of its informants within the armed group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its alleged front organization, the KCK, Erdoğan decided that it was time to curb their authority.

The reform abolished the SACs, transferring some of their duties to criminal courts amid speculations that it might lead to the release of at least the parliamentary deputies under arrest and their being put under a judicial monitoring system. Statements by President Abdullah Gül and Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek (as two prominent figures among the founders of the AK Party), saying that they would like to see the deputies’ release after the reform, endorsed this expectation amid efforts to write a new constitution which needed consensus.

But the first implementations of the reform have not raised hopes regarding the future of a better democracy in Turkey. Following the refusal to release two BDP deputies under arrest, İbrahim Aydın and Faysal Sarıyıldız, the courts ruled for the release of two right-wing militants, Bünyamin Adaalı and Ünal Osmanağaoğlu, who had been sentenced to life for torturing and murdering seven unarmed left-wing students in Ankara in 1978. Among the nearly 4,000 released so far under the reform, there is no publicly known case of someone arrested or convicted because of a freedom of expression or political “crime” being released. But yesterday a court released Muhsin Kehya, who had been sentenced to life for his involvement in the murder of Adana Police Chief Cevat Yurdakul in 1979 and two CHP politicians.

The reform picture so far is not a very bright one; neither for strengthening the feeling of justice in Turkish society, nor creating a fertile basis for a wider consensus for a better constitution and a possible solution to the Kurdish problem.