After Gülen movement, Erdoğan turns to Constitutional Court as next target

A recent accusation by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that there might be members of what he calls a “parallel structure,” which he says is trying to undermine his government, among the members of the Constitutional Court after the high court overturned a ban on Twitter might suggest that the high court is the next target of Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government.
Last week, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) had to unblock Twitter, which had been banned prior to the March 30 elections after several users released voice recordings implicating Erdoğan, some of his family members and some of his ministers in corruption. TİB had ignored similar rulings from lower courts and only obeyed the Constitutional Court decision about 24 hours after it was made.

The Constitutional Court argued the ban was a violation of freedom of speech. Prime Minister Erdoğan and other Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members criticized the decision, saying it was “unpatriotic.” The government accuses Twitter of failing to delete accounts that were found by Turkish courts to be in violation of the law.

On Tuesday, speaking to a group of journalists, the prime minister said: “They say it [Twitter] is about freedoms. It is not. It is all about commerce. They [social media sites] are all about commerce.”

“The Constitutional Court has turned the law upside down with its ruling. One can’t help but wonder if there are also elements of the parallel structure within the Constitutional Court as well. And the US is acting as their lawyer,” he said, referring to comments from the White House in support of the removal of the ban.

Since the launch of a graft investigation against his government, the prime minister has accused the “parallel structure” of attempting to undermine his government. He has said the Hizmet movement, a religiously inspired social community, is behind this parallel structure.

Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç on Monday defended the ruling, saying the decision was not “unpatriotic,” but universal.

Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bülent Arınç also criticized the high court’s decision, saying: “I think the Constitutional Court’s ruling is very wrong. It should be corrected.”

Arınç said the high court’s decision would encourage Twitter and other media companies to ignore rulings by Turkish courts. “Now Twitter has a reason not to implement court rulings that await action.”

Arınç said he had great respect for Constitutional Court President Kılıç but noted the court’s ruling failed short of protecting the “Turkish judiciary” and the “individual.”

Hours after Arınç’s statement, Transportation, Maritime and Communications Minister Lütfü Elvan announced that Twitter would be speaking to TİB and the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) in mid-April to discuss opening an office in Turkey.

On Tuesday afternoon Erdoğan reiterated his opinion that the Twitter ruling “should be corrected” while speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting.

The government has made drastic changes to the judiciary and the police force since the start of the Dec. 17 graft investigation. Thousands of police officers were removed from their duties and transferred to remote assignments, as well as many prosecutors, including the ones conducting the corruption investigation. Observers fear Erdoğan is trying to build a new judiciary loyal to his government.

Many believe the government’s remarks on the Twitter ruling might indicate changes to the high court’s structure in the near future.

Unlike Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül has said he was “proud” of the Constitutional Court for the ruling. In comments after the ruling, Gül said: “The Constitutional Court is the highest court. In the past, it used to make political rulings. I appointed 10 of the [current] 17 members. The fact that some important rulings are being made unanimously indicates that the members are basing their decisions on universal principles of law and this increases confidence. This is something which I am very proud of.”



About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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