Turkish gov’t to rearrange individual access to top court

Turkish gov’t to rearrange individual access to top court

Turkish gov’t to rearrange individual access to top court

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Echoing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance on a decision by Turkey’s top court last week that led to the release of two prominent journalists from jail, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has called court’s ruling a “clear violation” of the constitution and announced that the government has already begun work to redesign the mechanism that paved the way for their release.

Bozdağ said in its program, the government promised to increase the effectiveness of the individual application system.

“The Justice Ministry has been conducting work dealing with the parts that stand in the way of individual application within the framework of this commitment. It is an endeavor made together with the Constitutional Court. It is not a new effort; it has been ongoing for a while.

“In the upcoming process, seeing the implementation of individual application from the day it has been implemented and taking steps for legal arrangements in order to be effective and deal appropriately with its problematic parts is our government’s commitment to the public,” Bozdağ said on March 4.

Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, were freed on Feb. 26 after the Constitutional Court ruled their detention was “unlawful” and violated their individual freedom and safety. 

The two journalists, who still face trial and potential life sentences, were arrested in November 2015 and charged with intentionally aiding an armed terrorist organization and publishing material in violation of state security. 

Citizens’ individual access to the Constitutional Court, which led to the two journalists’ release, came into effect in September 2012, as part of a set of government-led reforms voted on in the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum and carried out as part of Turkey’s bid for full EU membership.

Yet, in late November 2015, while outlining his newly elected government’s program in parliament, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced, “In the face of possible harm to the Constitutional Court’s performance by the extreme workload that individual applications has brought it, we will review this practice of individual access.”

The Constitutional Court has long been targeted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over its rulings on individual complaints. The court’s public visibility has grown due to a series of high-profile rulings it has delivered, such as its April 2, 2014 lifting of the government-supported block on Twitter.

“The Constitutional Court says the jounalists’ freedom of expression and freedom of press has been violated. The indictment says there is espionage,” Bozdağ said, underlining the fact that their trial has yet to begin.

The first hearing of the case against the two journalists will be held before the Istanbul 14th Court of Serious Crimes on March 25.

“Starting with the Twitter ruling, the Constitutional Court has been making decisions by exceeding the Constitution repeatedly,” Bozdağ said. “It has been putting pressure on the ongoing trial,” he added.

“Decisions made by the Constitutional Court about individual applications can lead to results for the related persons. It doesn’t eliminate the [local] courts’ right of discretion. The courts are not obliged to comply with these decisions; they are not obliged to resist these decisions either,” he said. “If the Constitutional Court continues like this, then people will leave appealing to the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State and will directly appeal to the Constitutional Court,” he added, while arguing that the top court has been making populist decisions. “It should stay within its restraints drawn up in the constitution. Whether the public likes it [the decision] or not is something else,” he said.