Turkish gov’t heralds new purge in judiciary

Turkish gov’t heralds new purge in judiciary

Turkish gov’t heralds new purge in judiciary

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As Turkey witnessed a second wave of mass operation of detaining police officers as part of the “illegal wiretapping” probe, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s plans for restructuring the country’s top judicial body have been revealed.

The government has drafted optional plans to avoid facing problems while electing new members of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), in which it argues that followers of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whom he accuses of plotting to overthrow the government, are dominant. The election will be held in October, when current members’ terms in office expire.

To shape such plans, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ gathered on Aug. 5 around 100 jurist deputies of the AKP. The plans include legal amendments before October in a bid to change the election system to the HSYK in a way that would break the dominancy of Gülen’s followers. Another option is making a constitutional amendment regarding the structure of the HSYK after seeing the results of the election in October.

Earlier on Aug. 5, remarks delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ in response to Deputy Chief of the HSYK Ahmet Hamsici clearly displayed how both the government and the HSYK have been at sword’s point.

Cabinet members’ statements also displayed how they are determined to launch a purge within the top judiciary in order to eliminate Gülen’s followers.

‘Tutelary for unlawful judges and prosecutors’

“Everybody, including members of the judiciary, needs to exert special efforts in order not to harm the reputation of the judiciary,” Hamsici said late on Aug. 4, warning that long-term damage would emerge otherwise.

“In democratic states, neither Parliament, nor administrative bodies, including HSYK, should try to influence how investigations by prosecutors should be conducted or the decision to be made at the end the investigation,” Hamsici said in a written statement, which has widely been perceived as a criticism of a recent wave of detentions of over 100 people last month – of whom 31 were remanded in custody and charged – in the eavesdropping scandal linked to the dispute between Erdoğan and Gülen.

In his written statement, Hamsici referred to the Bordeaux Declaration by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE).

Hamsici’s statement was followed on the morning of Aug. 5 with a second wave of arrests of dozens of police officers.

Ahead of his meeting with AKP deputies, when asked about Hamsici’s statement, Bozdağ said it was a “pirate” statement that had no official attribution, noting he delivered similar “pirate” statements in the past, too.

“When you look at the statement, it includes some messages; those reading the statement clearly understand to which segments these messages are addressed. Our objection is to this; the HSYK is not a council that gives message to one side and takes a stance against the other side. It is assurance of the judiciary’s functioning in line with requirements of an independent and impartial state based on rule of law,” Bozdağ said.

As of late Aug. 4, while speaking in an interview with news channel A Haber, Bozdağ particularly complained of the 3rd Chamber of the HSYK, claiming it was acting as a kind of “tutelary” for judges and prosecutors who acted unlawfully.

Back in June, Bozdağ took the initiative to launch an investigation into a prosecutor and three judges who issued court orders for the arrest and freezing of assets of graft suspects in the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 investigations of 2013, involving governmental figures, overruling the 3rd Chamber that had dismissed the need for such an investigation.

Not the first attempt at restructuring

It is not the first time that the AKP government has made moves to reshuffle HSYK members. In February, a government-led law transferred significant powers from the HSYK to the Justice Ministry.

The bill was at the time criticized for increasing the government’s power over the justice system and is seen as part of the government’s efforts to cover up the corruption and graft probe launched in December.

Although the Constitutional Court partly overturned the controversial judicial bill in April, demanding a redefinition of the justice minister’s increased competences, it also paved the way to some uncertainties, since a number of HSYK members were automatically dismissed after the law entered into force in February. New members were subsequently appointed with Bozdağ’s final approval, one of the controversial extraordinary competences introduced with the new law.