Turkey’s judiciary is under political pressure, judges and prosecutors are in fear, President of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) Erinç Sağkan said at the opening ceremony of the judicial year, assessing the current state of Turkish judiciary as “in a very dark place”.
“There is a political pressure in the proceedings regarding political actions and political actions and political figures. The decisions of the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) are not implemented, the judges and prosecutors are afraid,” TBB’s head Sağkan said on Sep. 6 at the Supreme Court building in Ankara initiating the 2022-2023 judicial year.
“The judiciary, which should say ‘stop’ to violations of rights and freedoms, has been turned into a tool for the creation of rights violations in our country. The legal system in Turkey is in a very dark state. We entered the new judicial year in the shadow of dark examples,” he added.
Contentious judicial decisions have been on the Turkish people’s agenda recently. After singer Gülşen’s arrest, renowned academic Celal Şengör was also faced criminal punishment for “inciting hatred” or “insulting religious beliefs” in their public statements. These investigations are the last examples of surging investigations filed against public and political figures in Turkey, prompting debate on both freedom of speech and political influence on the judiciary. Especially the recent appointments and promotions of judicial members who gave such decisions strengthens public sentiment about loss of judicial freedom.
ECtHR impeachment procedure
In an interview he gave to Turkish newspaper Sözcu’s Saygı Öztürk, TBB head Sağkan pointed out that with local court’s recent decision to sentence philanthropist Osman Kavala for a life in prison, Turkey has become a second country in ECtHR’s history that undergo impeachment procedure.
The court had ruled that Kavala’s detention, more than 5 years of imprisonment and legal process were violating his rights, asking for his immediate release.
In the next hearing of the Gezi Park Protests, where Kavala was on trial for attempting to overthrow the government and treasury, İstanbul 10th Criminal Judge of Peace Furkan Bİlgehan Ertem resisted ECtHR’s decision and sentenced Kavala to life imprisonment. The decision has initiated the process of infringement by the Committee of Ministers, making Turkey the second country after Azerbaijan that undergoes that process.
“This is a judicial problem, because when we look at the local court, which does not implement the ECHR decision, apart from the politicians discussing it, this is a judicial problem,” Sağkan said.
“Arrests turn into punishments and early executions, and detentions turn into intimidation,” he added.
The Kavala case was not the only decision of the Criminal Judge of the Peace Ertem. He was known to be the judge who ruled for the arrest of Journalist Sedef Kabaş in January, for “insulting the President.” He had been switched from a lawyer to a judge in 2018 and became the criminal judge although he did not meet the 4-year seniority requirement.
The appointment was made by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors; the configuration of which was amended with the constitutional change in 2018, in favor of the President and ruling party’s influence.
According to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Furhan Ertem was recently appointed to South-Eastern province of Bitlis with a promotion to be the “Head of the Heavy Penal Court.”
Furkan Bilgehan Ertem, the Istanbul 10th Criminal Judge of the Peace, who made the decision, was sent to Bitlis and promoted to the “Head of the Heavy Penal Court”.
Singer, academic and a prosecutor
Ertem is just one of the examples of the contentious appointments. Akın Gürlek, the former head of the heavy penal court, was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Justice in June by the Presidency. He was the judge who resisted the Constitutional Court’s decision to release former CHP deputy and journalist Enis Berberoğlu, who was arrested in 2017 for “providing state secrets’ ‘, or the case brought against CHP Istanbul head Canan Kaftancıoğlu.
In very public cases such as the investigation against Academic Celal Şengör or the arrest of the singer Gülşen, a prosecutor comes to the fore: Türkşad Kuntay Uçuk. He started his career in 2018 and his experience was regarded as “not sufficient” by legal experts, who argue that his indictments are “faulty.”
In the indictment for the arrest of Gülşen, Sağkan said that “his practices are completely outside the current legal regulations”.
“One cannot apply judicial control (ask for arrest) on a file after it has been clearly stated that the person has no suspicion of escaping or blackening the evidence, but the pressure is so heavy that the court board has to balance it with house arrest in order to protect itself in some way while lifting the arrest warrant. Like, I think he’s making a huge mistake,” he said.
Protection, impunity, access ban
TBB head also underlined the cases where the Bar Association has filed for a complaint about allegations on public figures for corruption.
For example, the mafia leader Sedat Peker’s allegations on prominent government figures were brought to the attention of prosecutors by the Ankara Bar Association when Sağkan was the head, however “there is still no information given” to them yet.
“We can’t get any information about what kind of an investigation was carried out, what was done, what was researched or collected. As a matter of fact, the basis of this situation is a step of distrust in the judiciary”, he said.
Access to the news about Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, which came to the fore with Peker’s latest allegations, was also blocked. The decision to “omit the information from the content” came after the name of pro-government media group Turkuaz Media’s CEO, Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, who is the son-in-law of the President Erdoğan, appeared within Peker’s allegations.
Another decision to block access came to the news about AKP Istanbul Deputy and Head of Youth Branch Abdurrahim Boynukalın. Boynukalın was among the group that raided the building of the Hürriyet Newspaper in September 2015, on the grounds that the newspaper had distorted the statements of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the live broadcast.
Boynukalın censored the news about him with the ‘access ban’ decision taken on September 7th. The Istanbul Anatolian 3rd Criminal Court of Peace, which made a censorship decision, argued that Boynukalın’s “personal rights were violated”.
“The damage to the judiciary is primarily caused by its own members”, Sağkan said, “it is a dark picture”.