Turkish President Gül approves law subordinating judiciary to gov’t

President Abdullah Gül has approved a new judicial package that places the judiciary under the instructions of the government, thereby laying the groundwork for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to establish a judiciary that is totally subordinate to it, a Turkish daily said on Sunday.

“President Gül approved, without raising any objection, the 105-article new judicial package and thus paved the way for the AKP [another version used by the opposition for AK Party] to establish its own judiciary in the fullest sense of the word,” the Taraf daily said.

As per the report, the Supreme Court of Appeals, the administrative justice system and the justice mechanism currently in place will be redesigned based on the amendments introduced to various laws, while intervention into a judicial process is no longer considered as a crime.

The new judicial package, which was adapted by Parliament on June 18, was published, after being approved by the president late on Friday, in the Official Gazette on Saturday.

“This [package] is a blatant violation of the rule of law,” Atilla Kart, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) told Today’s Zaman, noting that the amendments in the package put the judiciary in a much tighter way under government control, dealing thereby a lethal blow to separation of powers.

The amendment not only allows the government to send, within 10 days, all important political court cases currently being heard to other courts while removing heads and members of a chamber by whom such court cases will be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeals in the case of an appeal, but also to put in place, within three months, a new organization that will do away with administrative justice.

President Gül has been severely criticized by members of opposition parties for having no regard for the rule of law and acting like a president who serves not the interest of the nation, but the interests of the party of which he is one of the founders.

“Gül acted in a way that puts his own political and personal interests before those of Turkey. The picture is so clear,” Kart commented.

Yusuf Halaçoğlu, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has criticized Gül for approving all laws without conducting a proper examination of the compliance with the Constitution.

“As a president who is one of the founders of the AKP, he is just acting as if he were in a post that needs to approve [whatever comes from the government],” Halaçoğlu told Today’s Zaman.
“Thanks to the fast trial system [introduced by the current amendments], the judiciary will no longer pose a problem for [those who conduct] big transactions of money, which are at the source of claims of corruption,” the report said.

The amendments in the new package are seen as a maneuver to facilitate an escape from a corruption investigation that has implicated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, members of his family, close associates and four former Cabinet ministers, who resigned a week after a sweeping graft probe went public in December of last year.

The Zaman daily also criticized, in a report on Sunday, the newly approved amendments, noting that the new package allows the government to conduct an operation against those targeted with a single judge who would agree to serve the ruling party’s purposes.

The Hizmet movement, which Prime Minister Erdoğan has often accused, without providing any concrete evidence, of orchestrating the graft probe, may well also be a target. Erdoğan, who accused Hizmet of acting like a “parallel structure” within the state, of having planted its sympathizers in the bureaucracy including the judiciary, has often referred to the Hizmet movement as a terrorist organization. The Hizmet movement is a grassroots education and interfaith dialogue movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

It is feared that Erdoğan has created this new structure in the judiciary in an effort to fight against and, in fact, to eradicate all those Hizmet sympathizers in the bureaucracy in a so-called witch-hunt operation.

“I do not call a person who approves a law that obviously violates several articles of the Constitution the president [of the whole nation]. This is actually no surprise, as he [Gül] acted like an organ of the ruling party,” Kart said.

In the recent past, some articles of the amendments to laws such as the Internet and Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) were cancelled, after the amendments being approved by Gül, by the Constitutional Court (AYM) on the grounds that those articles represented a violation of the Constitution.

Surprisingly, Gül recently told the Hürriyet daily, in a way to contradict his current stance on the justice package and to indicate that he does not take seriously what he preaches to others, that he was pleased with the decisions of the AYM. Gül, who proudly underlined that the rulings of the AYM were based on universal norms of rule of law, said: “A judge may naturally have political views of his own. But the only thing he should pay attention to in his post must be universal law. Our Constitutional Court has proved that it is a court on a par with those in developed countries,” Gül told the daily.

The new package, with criminal courts of peace abolished, has instead newly established Penal Judges of Peace, who are endowed with broad powers over investigations and other courts’ rulings.

It is the First Chamber of the HSYK, the composition of which was redesigned by the government following the Dec. 17 corruption investigation, which will make the appointments to these super-powerful new posts.

A single judge who serves in the post of penal judges of peace will be authorized in all matters related to issues such as issuing warrants for the searching of a house, taking into custody or the arrest of accused as well as appeals to judge decisions on these issues.

Previously, appeals to a decision of a judge on such issues were brought before a team of judges and a majority vote was needed for a ruling of the court, but in the current system a decision given by a single judge will be sufficient.

As per the amendments introduced in an omnibus bill, appeals to the decision of a judge who serves in the post of penal judges of peace will be made to another judge in the same system. “In this way, a closed system of checking will have been established,” the Zaman daily’s report said. As the ruling [given by a single judge] upon an appeal is considered to be final, the right to a fair trial and freedom to claim one’s right, both of which are guaranteed by the Constitution and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), will be severely damaged, the Zaman report added.

As per the amendments, efforts to try to sway, at the stage of an investigation, those in the judiciary are no longer considered as a crime, either, the Taraf report said.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ admitted in February that he called the chief public prosecutors of İzmir and Adana regarding ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption that have implicated high-level government officials.
The İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has accused Bozdağ of attempting to influence the judiciary after a prosecutor leading an investigation into allegations of corruption and organized crime in İzmir said a high-level Justice Ministry official had called him and pressured him to halt the investigation.

Bozdağ also admitted that he had called the Adana chief public prosecutor who had ordered the interception and search of a number of trucks suspected of transporting arms to Syria in the southern province of Adana.

Audio clips leaked over the Internet following the graft probe also revealed Prime Minister Erdoğan’s intervention in the judiciary in a public tender and in the election last year of the head of the Council of State.

With the nearly 900 criminal courts of peace having been closed down, approximately the same number of Penal Judges of Peace will be established within 20 days in their place. “These, who will be appointed by the HSYK which is totally under the control of the [Justice] Ministry, will be the special [all-powerful] judges of the new period,” the Taraf report said.

It will be these judges who will be authorized to issue all verdicts such as custody, arrest, calling a person to give a statement, banning someone to leave the country or imposing an injunction on a person’s assets as part of an investigation.

The CHP’s Kart is very concerned that the law has set the stage for top Justice Ministry officials to easily sway the special judges to be appointed. Noting that intervention in the judiciary by politicians usually takes place at this investigation stage, Kart said: “The Justice Ministry will be able to easily apply pressure on judges posted as Penal Judges of Peace in provinces.”

The new justice package, which also introduces changes in the structure of the Supreme Court of Appeals, thereby allowing the government to place its “men” in certain positions, is reorganizing the administrative justice. As per the law, regional administrative courts, heads and members of which will be assigned within three months, are being reorganized.

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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