Turkish top judge points to power game over judiciary

Turkish top judge points to power game over judiciary

“The state’s essence and raison d’etre is to maintain security for justice” said Haşim Kılıç, the president of Turkey’s Constitutional Court. “If that fails, political, economic and social crises become inevitable.”

Kılıç’s words came before he accepted a medal awarded by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a global reference for rights and freedoms. He received the medal from the hands of the commission’s president, Gianni Buquicchio, during a conference on Nov. 27 in the southern Turkish province of Antalya on individual application to the Constitutional Court to protect human rights.

The role of the Court as a recourse for Turkish citizens to claim their rights was praised during the conference by Philippe Boillat, head of the Council of Europe’s Directorate General for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.

Kılıç gave some numbers to show how the individual application system, which was introduced in a referendum in 2010 and was put into effect in 2012, has turned into a “hope” for Turkish people to challenge violations. He said the number of applications had risen to 18,325 in the first nine months of 2014, up from 1,342 in 2012. There have been a total of 29,564 cases so far, almost half of which were completed. Some 348 cases were ruled to be violation of rights, without the further need to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

Among those 348 cases were the releases of former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ and journalist Mustafa Balbay, who had been elected as a member of Parliament while he was under arrest. They were released on the grounds that their right to a defense had been violated and their arrest periods had been too long. According to Kılıç, both remain a major problem in Turkey’s judicial system.
But they are not the only problems.

Following two graft probes in December 2013, President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu claimed that there was a conspiracy against their Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) by judicial and police force sympathizers of their former ally Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist scholar living in the U.S. The government describes these sympathizers as the “parallel state.”

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have taken a number of steps since then to break the Gülenist influence in the judiciary, which includes a “legal reform” recently submitted to Parliament.

Ali Alkan, the president of the Court of Appeals (Yargıtay), has strongly reacted against the reform package, claiming that the government wants to secure full control over the courts. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has responded to Alkan by effectively saying “mind your own business,” escalating the already existing strain in the system.

Reporters asked Kılıç about this situation during the Antalya conference.

“There is a certain tension in the judiciary,” he said. “This is not new, it has been so for some time.”

The sources of the tension, according to Kılıç, are the efforts by two elements in particular: “The government and a dominant group within the Yargıtay.”

Was Kılıç referring to a “group within the Yargıtay” as the Gülenists, described by the government as the “parallels”?

“It is understood that there is [in the Yargıtay] a certain group acting together,” Kılıç replied, without elaborating.

Did he think there could be an end to this tension?

“It ends when one of the groups becomes dominant,” he replied. “But political actors and civil society organizations should stop trying to control the judiciary. Of course everyone would like to see such a huge power on its side, but that is wrong. This is the reason for these tensions.”

NB: Based on initial reports, yesterday’s column mistakenly said Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek had applied to the court for a media ban on the graft probe, but the actual applicant was the commission chair.