Turkey’s judicial order is in major crisis
A report published by U.S.-based NGO Freedom House on Jan. 16 demoted Turkey from the ranks of “Partly Free” to “Not Free” countries in terms of the use of fundamental freedoms and democratic rights.
Turkey has thus been put on the list of “not democratic” and “unfree” countries like Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and many other African and Middle Eastern nations.
One can find the whole report and a brief overview of key developments in 2017 in Turkey on Freedom House’s website.
Of course, some may find such a demotion unfair. But there have certainly been many developments that back up Freedom House’s conclusions. The latest one occurred last week, when a lower court refused to implement a ruling taken by the Constitutional Court on arrested journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan.
Some background is needed: As a result of substantial constitutional amendments in 2010, Turkey’s Constitutional Court started accepting individual applications on issues related to alleged violations of citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms.
One of the reasons behind the introduction of this individual application practice to the top court was to create another internal remedy mechanism and therefore reduce the number of applications from Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Since then, the number of applications to the ECHR has indeed been reduced. The Constitutional Court has issued a number of very important verdicts to let lower courts correct some of their rulings that violate citizens’ rights and freedoms.
For example, as a result of a verdict issued by the top court in early 2016 two senior journalists from daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, were released from jail after over three months behind bars over a news report. It grounded its ruling on the fact that their right to personal liberty and security, as well as their freedom of expression and freedom of press, had been violated.
The Constitutional Court’s demand for the lower court to remove this violation was then implemented, which is how Dündar and Gül were released from prison in 2016. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a number of top government officials severely criticized the top court over the Dündar-Gül ruling, with Erdoğan urging the lower court to resist the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Now, almost two years since that discussion, the Constitutional Court issued a similar verdict over the individual petitions of jailed Alpay and Altan, calling on the lower court to remove their rights violation. However, this time the lower court rejected the ruling of the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest judicial body whose verdicts cannot be challenged. This has created a judicial mess, violating Turkey’s constitutional order through judicial bodies.
This development has occurred around two months after another lower court rejected a higher court’s ruling on Enis Berberoğlu, an arrested deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was sentenced to life in jail over leaking secret documents to Dündar and Gül.
Despite all these incidents, there has been no disciplinary action from the Supreme Council of Judges (HSK), a body that supervises the performance of judges and prosecutors.
Ultimately, all these developments damage the quality of the justice system in Turkey, further weakening trust in the judiciary amid a constant deterioration in the rule of law. Sadly, recent examples add further clouds to the dim prospect of ever securing an impartial and independent justice system in this country, together amounting to a major judicial crisis.