The high court vs. low politics
When Turkey’s Constitutional Court made a landmark decision last week to free two imprisoned journalists, everything first looked fine. The two scribes in question, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, had been in jail for 92 days for a news story they ran months ago exposing that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was shipping weapons to some groups in Syria. President Erdoğan and his supporters had condemned this story as “espionage” and “treason,” and a like-minded court had agreed. But now, the highest court in the country has declared that the issue was not “espionage” but “freedom of the press.”
Interestingly, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not initially oppose this Constitutional Court decision. In fact, an AKP spokesman hailed it as “good news” which they received it “happily.” There was a moment as if rule of law worked in Turkey and everybody was happy about it.
But this moment did not last long. Two days after the Constitutional Court decision, President Erdoğan spoke about it. He insisted that what Dündar and Gül did was “espionage,” and the high court ruling was wrong. “I do not respect this decision,” he said, adding, “I do not abide by it.”
This was a signal for the pro-Erdoğan propaganda machine to sharpen its blades. The next day, pro-Erdoğan newspapers (whose number have exceeded a dozen by now, and is only likely to increase in the future) came out with furious headlines. The Constitutional Court was the headquarters of the new “coup.” It was a hub of “parallel” spies, and an illegitimate “tutelage” over the nation. Some Erdoğan apparatchiks also showed the way: In the new constitution that Turkey should have, the Constitutional Court must be abolished. The “national will” must be unbounded.
In the face of such political zealotry, one should recall that constitutional courts were established in Europe in the post-World War II era, precisely against such cases of “national will,” which led to nothing other than fascism. In today’s Turkey, there is really a poisonous political line that growingly resembles the fascist models of the 1930s. It is no accident that this “national will,” which amounts to nothing but the tyranny of the majority, sees the Constitutional Court as obstacle to its zeal for domination. And that is precisely why the Constitutional Court, and its protection of our civil liberties, is invaluable.
One should also add that with its performance in the past 3-4 years, the Constitutional Court has actually have proven that it is nobody’s handmaiden. The current accusation by Erdoğanists, that the courts is dominated by “parallels” (i.e., Gülen Movement members) is nonsense, because the same court gave landmark decisions that freed officers or police chiefs that were widely believed to be imprisoned by the same “parallels.” If the Constitutional Court decisions mirror any other authority, it is the European Court of Human Rights.
The bottom line is “defending the judges of the Constitutional Court must be the duty of all democrats,” as Ali Bayramoğlu, one of the few remaining supporters of the AKP who can still dare to criticize it, noted in his column in Yeni Şafak, a very pro-government daily. For the high court is really the last stronghold of liberal values, at a time when an overbearing government is destroying all checks and balances on its way.