Turkey's Constitutional Court must remain free, Council of Europe’s Jagland says

Turkey's Constitutional Court must remain free, Council of Europe’s Jagland says

İpek Yezdani - ipek.yezdani@hurriyet.com.tr ANKARA
Turkeys Constitutional Court must remain free, Council of Europe’s Jagland says

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland speaks to daily Hürriyet. HÜRRİYET Photo / Rıza Özel

The separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary is an indispensable principle in any democracy, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland has said during a visit to Turkey, adding that the country’s Constitutional Court must remain free.

“My message – and I have every reason to give this message – in any country is that politicians should not try to put pressure on any court. It is not their business, their business is to make the laws and let the courts interpret the laws. This is a basic principle in any democracy,” Jagland told daily Hürriyet in an interview during a visit to Ankara on Jan. 7.

Jagland had meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç, and the leaders of opposition parties during his visit to Ankara.

Speaking to Hürriyet, Jagland said the Constitutional Court played a very important role in Turkey.

“The fact that every citizen in Turkey can apply to this court has proven to be very important. Thousands of Turks are going to this court. In democracy, it is an indispensable principle that any court can work in an independent way and not be put under pressure by the political sector,” he said.

“The Constitution Court is free and it is important for it to remain so,” Jagland had said in an interview broadcast earlier in the day.   

He also said it was just as important to have freedom of expression and freedom of the media as it was to have independent courts.

“The media also plays an indispensable role in a democracy like the independent courts. The separation of powers, checks and balances is a fundamental principle in any democracy. Without independent institutions, we always get corruption and misuse of power. We have seen it recently in Ukraine, in Tunisia and elsewhere that if you don’t have it, it can even lead to revolutions,” Jagland said.

He said there were "systematic problems" in Turkey, particularly in the judiciary, with regard to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. “Most of the applications and judgments from the court in Strasbourg [The European Court of Human Rights] are about these issues," he observed.

The secretary general also said he asked Erdoğan about the so-called “parallel structure,” a code word for the followers of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

“I have inquired about that which is on the mind of everybody here in Turkey and abroad, the so-called parallel structure. I asked for an explanation about that from the president, he gave me a very thorough version of it, also in written form. I have had meetings with all the political parties, the president of the Constitutional Court and human rights organizations to get their views. I am trying to get the full picture. Probably there are many truths in this. But everybody recognizes that there are problems in Turkey that have to be remedied,” Jagland said.

'Corruption allegations should be taken seriously'

Jagland said he asked Turkish authorities to look into the report about corruption by the monitoring body of the Council of Europe, GRECO.

“These recommendations are very important in order to combat corruption. It is clear, and it has been expressed by the authorities here, that one has to take allegations regarding corruption more seriously,” he said.

Regarding the decision of Parliament’s Corruption Inquiry Commission about four former ministers accused of graft, Jagland said it was "not his job to interfere" in the decisions of the internal institutions in Turkey.

“I cannot establish myself as an institution above the Parliament and above the internal institutions in Turkey. It is difficult for me to say the decision by the Parliament was right or wrong. But normally it is important that allegations are dealt with by a court; only then one can say whether a person is innocent or not,” he said.

Jagland said he had also discussed issues of gender equality. Asked about Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu’s recent statement that motherhood should be a woman’s only career, he said "this is not my view."

"I know that some hold that view. But I don’t think it can be implemented in practice in any society because we are dependent on people being a part of the society and being able to contribute to the economy and society at large,” he added.

Jagland also stressed that women and men have the same rights under the European Convention. “These are the basic rights. There is a large appreciation in societies on how they apply it. But no member country can harm the fundamental rights of any of the sexes, men and women. My fundamental thinking on that is that women represent half the population and therefore constitute very important resources for any society that should be used fully,” he said.

Jagland said he received a letter from Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu just before the interview started, noting that Turkey wanted to be one of the big financial contributors to the Council of Europe.

“We have the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and Italy as so-called big contributors. Now Turkey wants to be one of them, which means they will contribute much more to the Council of Europe and it gives us [an opportunity] to expand our activities a lot.  It means also Turkey will have the possibility to have more people on the Secretariat,” he added.