The end of free justice in Turkey

The end of free justice in Turkey

If Dec. 17, 2013 was a turning point in Turkey’s political history, in which a massive corruption and graft operation engulfed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family and Cabinet members, then Feb. 28, 2014 will mark another one. This one, however, will symbolize the end of an independent and impartial justice in Turkey.

Two major events occurred on the very same Feb. 28 to prove this finding, ironically on the 17th anniversary of what the government calls the post-modern coup.

Firstly, the law reshaping the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) entered into force and the justice minister became its sole authority. He appointed key figures of the board immediately after he removed the former secretary-general and former head and deputy heads of the disciplinary board, at the expense of violating a very fundamental constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Secondly, five suspects, including the sons of ex-ministers Barış Güler and Kaan Çağlayan, as well as the key suspect of the graft probe Reza Serrab, have been released by court pending trial. With their release, there are no more suspects under arrest in the graft operation. With the removal of the prosecutors who have launched this corruption probe, it was already sure that the government would do everything it could to stop the deepening of the investigation, especially at a moment when voice recordings allegedly between Erdoğan and his son, or of the businessmen, are raining down on YouTube.

Even these two developments are enough to come to the conclusion that we can no longer mention an independent justice in Turkey and the existence of the principle of the rule of law. In what Erdoğan calls the “new Turkey,” the government will exercise its control of each and every judicial appointment and will intervene in justice affairs, as many powers belonging to the HSYK General Assembly have been transferred to the justice minister. Bar associations, lawyers, judges’ unions and civil society organizations, as well as political parties, seriously criticized the law, urging that it might lead to a “plebiscitary authoritarian regime.”

Even President Abdullah Gül, who unwillingly approved the HSYK bill, asked the Constitutional Court to deal with its controversial articles, implying that it contained unconstitutional elements. The only hope for avoiding a government-controlled judiciary is that the top court will annul the law and it will pave the way for the removed HSYK members to go to court to secure their return to their positions. This, in fact, shows that the Constitutional Court has remained as the last castle of free justice in Turkey as a credible body in distributing justice.

The Dec. 17 process has had significant damaging impacts on key Turkish institutions, with the judiciary at the top of the list. The government has obviously chosen to cover up corruption and graft claims by giving enormous damage to key values that have vital importance for a stable future for Turkey. If this isn’t the mother of all crimes, then what is it?