Turkish president sends AKP-linked lawyers to key judges and prosecutors council

Turkish president sends AKP-linked lawyers to key judges and prosecutors council

Mesut Hasan Benli ANKARA
Turkish president sends AKP-linked lawyers to key judges and prosecutors council

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ (2L) poses with the new members of the HSYK. AA Photo

The four new members of Turkey’s Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), who were not elected but appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have sparked fresh controversy on the crucial judicial body’ objectivity.

The elections for the 22-member key judicial body had turned into a battlefield between the government, its opponents, and the movement of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Lawyer Hayriye Şirin Ünsel, one of the final four new HSYK members announced in the Official Gazette on Oct. 26, was nominated as a Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate at the 2007 general elections. After failing to get elected in 2007, she started working at a women’s branch of the AKP, and was elected from the party as a board member to the Pendik Municipality in Istanbul in 2009.

Muharrem Özkaya, another appointed HSYK member, has no direct links with the AKP, but his brother Ali Özkaya is Erdoğan’s lawyer. He has also served as a consultant for two unions under the Confederation of Righteous Trade Unions (Hak-İş), which is known for having better relations with the government compared to the other two umbrella workers' unions.

Özkaya told Hürriyet that it was an honor to become a HSYK member, ruling out claims that the decision had any connection to his brother

“Ali Özkaya is my brother. But he is not the one who suggested me for the post. Colleagues at the Justice Ministry and some others offered my appointment,” he said.

His brother also said it was others who had suggested him to President Erdoğan. “The president’s decision to appoint four lawyers to the post shows how much value he attaches to lawyers,” he said.

Aysel Demirel, the second female of the HSYK’s new full members, previously served as an independent board member at the state-run property developer Emlak Konut REIT.

Demirel and Ünsel are the only two female HSYK full members. Zeynep Şahin, another female judge in the new Council who comes from the Supreme Court of Appeals, was elected as a substitute member.

Erdoğan's fourth appointment was Rasim Aytin, another former lawyer, who was appointed to the HSYK for a second term.

The president names four members to the HSYK and is authorized by law to appoint academics or lawyers with at least 15 years of experience and no obstacles to becoming a judge. The HSYK is traditionally dominated by judges and prosecutors.

Almost 14,000 judges and prosecutors from the all around the country cast votes on Oct. 12 to elect 10 full members and six substitute members to the HSYK. Candidates reportedly close to the government who gathered under the Unity in Justice Platform (YBP) won all seven seats that have been allocated for members of the civil judiciary, while they also won one seat allocated for members of the administrative judiciary.

Two independent candidates, reportedly close to the “parallel state,” won two seats allocated for the administrative judiciary. The “parallel state” is the phrase the government uses to describe followers of Fethullah Gülen.

Disappointed by the first two rounds of the HSYK elections, leading AKP figures had claimed that the government was planning to change the election system of the key judicial body. However, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, speaking to reporters on Oct. 12, described the preliminary results of the third round as the judiciary’s resistance against “the hegemony of the cemaat [community].”

“Cemaat” is one of the terms used to refer to the followers of Gülen, who has been in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania for over a decade. The AKP alleges that the Gülen movement, an erstwhile ally, has attempted to topple the government through its followers in the state apparatus.