Ombudsman alla Turca

Ombudsman alla Turca

Turkish Parliament elected its first ombudsman, or public inspector, last week on Nov. 27, sparking a new debate on his eligibility. Mehmet Nihat Ömeroğlu, a retired judge on the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay, in Turkish) was the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and secured a simple majority on the fourth round of voting; only 258 out of 326 AK Parti deputies voted for him. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) did not attend the voting and called for him to resign as soon as Ömeroğlu’s election was clear.

There are a few reasons for the CHP’s immediate call for the resignation of the judge. For example, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was the wedding witness of the son of Ömeroğlu, who had a surprisingly good carrier jump in his job at Turkish Airlines. Could he remain impartial if and when he is to make a decision on a case related to the company? Cemil Çiçek, the current Parliamentary Speaker, had suggested Ömeroğlu as his undersecretary during his former post as Justice Minister. Could the Ombudsman remain impartial if he has to deal with a complaint against Çiçek?

Those are rather technical objections to Ömeroğlu’s new post by the opposition; a third one created much more reaction in the media and with human rights defenders.

Ömeroğlu was among the Yargıtay judges who approved an imprisonment sentence against the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink due to ‘insulting Turkishness’ back on July 11, 2006. The code was later softened on the basis of freedom of expression and the imprisonment was postponed, but Dink was assassinated on Jan. 19, 2007 in Istanbul by a right-wing triggerman. When interviewed by Deniz Zeyrek of Radikal about the decision, Ömeroğlu said that he did not know that Hrant Fırat Dink (his full name) was not the Hrant Dink the whole media was writing about when he made his decision; an explanation that did not convince many. Adalet Ağaoğlu, a respected novelist and human rights defender, told Taraf newspaper that Ömeroğlu was the ‘most ruthless of the 18 judges’ who had made the decision. Dink’s brother Hosrof reacted strongly to the election of Ömeroğlu as the Chief Public Inspector. “That decision was my brother’s bill of execution,” he told reporters.

But that was not all. The next day, a Parliametary commission named Muhittin Mıhçak, another judge of the same 18 who approved Dink’s case.

Ömeroğlu, Mıhçak and their colleagues will start their jobs on Mar. 29 and by that time they would shape the team of inspectors and experts (a bureaucracy of hundreds) to work with them, amid speculations that the long-awaited ombudsman system for impartial public inspection of government, which is also a matter of harmonizing Turkish legislation with that of the European Union, has died at birth.