Venice Commission concerned for independence of judiciary in Turkey
VENICEThe Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has expressed concerns over “serious interference with the independence of the judiciary in Turkey” which it had found to be apparent in several cases, referring to immediate and direct actions Turkey’s High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) took against judges and prosecutors on account of their decisions.
Immediate and direct actions taken by the HSYK against top judicial officials over their decisions contradicts basic principles of the rule of law, said a statement released by the Venice Commission on June 20.
The statement said there were insufficient guarantees for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, recalling an HSYK law amended on Feb. 15, 2014, that strengthened the powers of the justice minister within the HSYK.
The justice minister, it said, had replaced key members of the HSYK administrative staff as well as reassigned them to other chambers shortly before many of these amendments were declared unconstitutional by a decision of Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Apr. 10, 2014.
The statement mentioned a pattern of interventional actions against the work of judges and prosecutors in politically sensitive cases that had been subjected to non-execution of judicial decisions and requests from prosecutors in violation of the law, removing prosecutors from cases prepared by themselves over a long period of time, arbitrarily transferring judges and prosecutors to other courts and dismissing and even arresting judges for decisions they had made.
The statement grouped the cases brought to the attention of the Venice Commission into three; the HSYK’s decisions to suspend prosecutors Zekeriya Öz, Celal Kara, Mehmet Yüzgeç and Muammer Akkaş and judge Süleyman Karaçöl, who headed the Dec. 17, 2013, case related to the country’s biggest corruption investigation; judges Metin Özçelik and Mustafa Başer, who ruled the release of 76 suspects in a case related to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen; and Süleyman Bağrıyanık, Ahmet Karaca, Aziz Takçi and Özcan Şişman, who gave orders in January 2014 to stop and search Syria-bound trucks of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
The Venice Commission stressed that measures against judges and prosecutors over their decisions can only be taken if there is sufficient proof they did not act impartially but for improper reasons, calling on Turkish authorities to review the measures taken against top judicial officials concerned, to revise the HSYK law to reduce the executive power within the council, to outlaw any interference by the HSYK with pending cases and to provide judges with legal and constitutional guarantees against transfer against their will.
The commission also asked President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to follow up the situation of the judiciary in Turkey.