Turkish judicial system in trouble
Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of the killing of Hrant Dink, Turkish-Armenian journalist and founder of the weekly Agos, by an ultra-nationalist gunman in downtown Istanbul. The assassination of Dink, who had devoted his life to building peace bridges between Turks and Armenians, continues to hit the hearts and conscience of many in Turkey and beyond as one of the most heartbreaking blows on peace and stability.
What makes this notorious murder even more painful is the fact that the trial process could not be concluded in the past 13 years and there is little progress in shining a light on the network behind the crime. One of the factors of this snail-paced trial process is the impact of the interventions of FETÖ members into the judicial process before they were expelled from their positions after the failed coup in July 2016. The other reason concerns the structural problems the Turkish judicial system has long been facing.
A recent example explains and reveals the level of the dysfunction of justice in Turkey. It’s about two exactly opposite court decisions on a former four-star general, Metin İyidil, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment over his links to FETÖ that staged the failed coup in 2016. İyidil, former commander of the Land Forces Training and Doctrine Command (EDOK), was accused of helping the coup plotters on the night FETÖ staged the coup attempt but he denied all the accusations. After a trial process, he was given a life sentence in 2018.
On Jan. 14, upon the request of appeal by the defense attorneys, a local court in Ankara reversed the earlier verdict by suggesting that there was no evidence proving İyidil’s involvement in the coup. It also said the former general was not guilty and that he was trying to thwart the coup. Acquitted from all charges İyidil was freed on the same night.
But, just a day later, Ankara’s chief public prosecutor filed a complaint about the local court’s decision which paved the way for the detention of İyidil on Jan. 16. He was sent back to prison on Jan. 17 on charges of attempting to remove the constitutional order. In the meantime, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) has launched a probe on the judges who have acquitted and released İyidil. All three judges were removed from their posts.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented on the case at a press conference before his departure to Berlin on Jan. 19 as “a very sad development for the judicial community.” Erdoğan has argued that the judges who released İyidil are also FETÖ members. “How come a court can acquit and release a person who was given a life sentence? It’s not understandable. Thank God, our Justice Minister and prosecutors stepped in. He was arrested with a [police] operation. He is now in prison,” Erdoğan said.
Alone this case surfaces how deep the judicial problems are. Courts issue exactly opposite verdicts on a very sensitive case which triggers the questions on whether some FETÖ members do enjoy political and judicial protection.
The case of İyidil came at a time when the Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a parliamentary motion for digging out the political leg of FETÖ. The opposition parties have long been arguing that some businessmen and bureaucrats whose links with FETÖ are well-known by the public were given a shield of immunity.
This sole case does also show that the government’s efforts to re-structure the justice after the massive purge of FETÖ members are yet to yield the desired result. It is in preparation for the second judicial reform package but reports suggest that it will mainly deal with amending the law on the execution of sentences. The first reform package has already been proven to fail as it failed to protect the journalists from being prosecuted because of their pieces.
These cases should alert the government to re-think its works on justice based on full impartiality and independence. Almost all public opinion surveys indicate that justice, along with the economy, is the top problem cited by the people. They should be addressed through the adoption of a universally-accepted judicial system.