These members of the judiciary had been practicing attorneys and became judges only three months before the HSYK law was passed.
The judges have been appointed to high criminal courts in major provinces, including İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Adana in violation of the tradition surrounding judicial promotion. Typically, only judges with a minimum of 15 years experience on the bench are appointed to these courts, yet these AK Party-affiliated judges have been appointed to high-profile positions with no previous experience as judges at all.
The judges will now deal with a number of major criminal cases, including a large corruption and bribery investigation that has implicated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and several members of his government.
Other prominent and likely to be provocative cases to be heard by these judges include the case related to the death of the late Grand Unity Party (BBP) Chairman Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, who died in a suspicious helicopter crash in 2009, and that of the brutal killing of three Christian missionaries in a publishing house in Malatya in 2007.
The controversial appointments of these judges come just weeks after an audio recording allegedly of a conversation between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin was leaked in which the two were apparently discussing how to control the Supreme Court of Appeals. A voice believed to belong to Ergin was heard saying, “Nearly 2,000 friends who were lawyers practicing in the private sector are being transferred into the system.”
The recording was posted on Twitter by an anonymous user in early March.
In mid-February, Emine Ülker Tarhan, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), submitted a parliamentary question in which she asked if pro-AK Party judges and prosecutors were being used by the government to conceal evidence of corruption in the graft probe. The parliamentary question followed claims that a huge number of lawyers who were recently given positions as judges and prosecutors by the state had previously served within the AK Party. Tarhan noted that although there is no legal obstacle to former members of the AK Party serving in the judiciary, this is unacceptable in terms of judicial ethics.
The appointment of judges with recent ties to the AK Party to high criminal courts will also impact the course of ongoing major investigations. The government is currently working on a plan to make it a requirement for decisions to authorize wiretapping to be unanimous in the courts concerned. Currently, only the approval of a majority of the judges is necessary. In late January, Prime Minister Erdoğan expressed his uneasiness with the wiretapping conducted by public prosecutors and he indicated that the government will take steps to decrease that activity.
In Turkey, prosecutors often wiretap the phone conversations of suspects to monitor and expose criminal activity.
With AK Party-affiliated judges being appointed to high criminal courts, it will probably be more difficult for prosecutors to obtain authority from those courts to conduct legal wiretaps on suspects.
A judge who ordered the arrest of six police officers in Adana last week in the course of an investigation of claims of illegal wiretapping drew criticism for expressing his strong support for Prime Minister Erdoğan on Facebook.
On March 28, the judge wrote, “We love you R.T. Erdoğan because those who don’t love you don’t love this nation. Because Zionist Israel and its collaborators don’t love you. Because all oppressed people and Muslims in the world love you. Because you are one who is of this nation. May God protect you and help you succeed. For all of our sakes. Amen.”