How impartial is the Turkish judiciary?
It is not just government opponents who can make little sense of how the law works in Turkey today. Even avid supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are highlighting the inconsistencies of the latest rulings against journalists accused of being supporters of terrorist organizations.
To start with, it is unclear why the German-Turkish reporter Deniz Yücel was held for a year without being charged, and then released without any reasons given. He was arrested for allegedly supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but many say that if the accusation was so clear-cut, then he should have been indicted.
Yücel’s release came as Prime Minister Yıldırım was visiting Germany, where he also met Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks aimed at improving the strained ties between the two countries. Prior to his visit, Yıldırım told the German press that he hoped Yücel would be released soon.
The fact that the release came at such a moment clearly points to a political rather than a judicial decision. This also appears to confirm the claim of German officials that Yücel, and other German citizens like him, are being held hostage by Turkey. It is good that Yücel was released but this affair has left murky questions in its wake.
The decision to release Yücel also came simultaneously with the life sentences handed to three prominent veteran journalists opposed to Erdoğan and the AKP - the brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, and Nazlı Ilıcak. They were charged with supporting the 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan.
The oddity in their case is that the Constitutional Court, to which the Altan brothers had applied, had ruled that there were serious irregularities in the charges levelled against them, and that their rights had been violated. The lower court decided, however, with strong support from the government, which derided the Constitutional Court ruling, to disregard the decision of the highest court of the land.
It is not clear how the government hopes to convince anyone under these circumstances that the rule of law in Turkey is as good as anywhere in the West.
The Council of Europe (CoE), of which Turkey is a long standing member, voiced concerns last week about the state of emergency measures put in place after the failed coup, saying these had generated a flood of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
According to CoE rules, an applicant can only go to the ECHR if all legal mechanisms at home have been exhausted. The Constitutional Court in Turkey had accepted the right of the individual appeal to avert an increasing number of citizens going to the European Court.
It had also come up with respectable rulings that achieved this aim, even though some of the most important of these were rejected by the government.
But now this is up in the air too, because if a lower court in Turkey does not respect the highest court of the land, then why should anyone waste time going to the Constitutional Court, and not go straight to the ECHR?
But even that is unlikely to help those seeking justice. A government and judiciary that does not respect its own Constitutional Court, is unlikely to respect a “foreign court.” This in turn could precipitate a new crisis in Turkey’s ties with the CoE.
What all of this is doing to Turkey’s international reputation is another question altogether.