Judicial reform package is a “confession” of Turkey’s judicial mess

Turkey’s recently announced judicial reform is nothing more than a “confession” of the mess that the country’s judiciary finds itself in, a leading legal expert says.

Prof. Dr. Metin Gunday, a prominent administrative law expert, told the Gazete Duvar news portal on Sunday that the judicial reform package unveiled last week by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan served as a confession of Turkey’s “wrecked” judicial system.

Erdogan on Thursday announced the judicial reform strategy for Turkey at a meeting at his presidential palace in capital Ankara.

Saying that the reforms in the package were aimed to “strengthen our nation’s sense of justice,” Erdogan also vowed to enhance Turkey’s freedom of expression as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union.

No fair trial principle left

Gunday said that it’s hard to understand the political motive behind the Turkish authorities’ decision to release the legal reform package at a time when there is no fair trial principle left in Turkey.

“Does it mean anything to release a text with a pretentious title when public prosecutors have become hitmen [for the government] and when detentions and arrests come one after another [in Turkey]?” the law expert asked.

Referring to the promises given in the package, shorter trial periods and easing of the detentions, he added that those rules already existed in the law and not abiding by them has led to numerous unlawful practices in the country until now.

“The [reform] package in question, as well as the amendments to the law that should be done accordingly, should have been prepared in the Turkish Parliament, not in the Presidential Palace. Therefore, what was announced [by Erdogan] is not a ‘reform’ in real terms, it’s merely a make-up,” Gunday argued.

When asked how should a genuine judicial reform be done in Turkey, the professor said judicial independence and impartiality should be enabled through regulations that require changes in the constitution.

He said Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) needed to be reformed and that political authorities should abide by court decisions even when they disagree with them. Additionally, political authorities should not interfere in the judicial process with orders or advice on how judgments should be made.

Prosecutors’ objections 

Gunday further pointed out that prosecutors’ right to object a court ruling to release a suspect had been granted by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government through a state-of-emergency decree in 2016.

The emergency decrees, which were published by the ruling AKP following a failed military coup on July 15, 2016, led to the dismissal of more than 125,000 public officials over accusations of being involved in the attempted putsch.

“We see in many incidents that a suspect released by the court is detained again by another court, or sometimes by the same court, without even having the chance to leave the premises because of an objection filed by a prosecutor against his or her release,” he said.

When asked “Do these happen due to the effect of the political power on the judiciary?” Gunday told Gazete Duvar that there’s no other way to explain the reasons why a court would decide to re-detain someone they had moments earlier ordered released.

“That’s why the package in which they say they would prevent arbitrary detentions is a text of confession. [Even] Though the package is a confession of what has been done [unlawfully in Turkey] until now, I don’t know whether it is an assurance for not repeating the same deeds. We’ll see about that,” he commented.

Still being detained for insults 

On the measures introduced in the package to strengthen freedom of expression, the professor argued that while it is nice to see such projects, people are still being detained for “insulting the president” in Turkey.

“It was just the other day when journalist Sedef Kabas was sentenced to [11 months and 20 days in] prison for insulting Erdogan. Then, let’s ask this: will the freedom of expression that is vowed to be strengthened in the package involve the freedom to criticize the [AKP] government?” Gunday said.

“Provided that it does, what will happen to those who have received sentences [for criticizing the president and his government] until now? The [pro-government] Yeni Safak daily already has unlimited freedom of expression. That freedom is actually needed by the dissidents,” he added.

When he was reminded that the number of the cases filed in Turkey on the charge of insulting the president reached 12,173 in 2017, three years after Erdogan came to office, Gunday held forth that those cases were filed by the prosecutors he referred to as “the government’s hitmen.”

Gunday also indicated that if Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany or French President Emmanuel Macron would vow to protect freedom of thought, they would be laughed at because providing fundamental human rights is not a blessing and therefore cannot be used as a promise by the politicians.

The administrative law expert also highlighted that claims and incidences of torture and ill-treatment in Turkey are denied by the government in the reform strategy package.

No torture says Ankara 

Coming two days after an Ankara lawyers’ group revealed reports of five foreign ministry personnel receiving torture and mistreatment in custody the text says that Turkey has adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy on torture and has left claims of systematic torture behind it.

“The text says there is not even a claim of torture let alone an incident where it took place.” Gunday pointed out.

Following news reports of widespread torture of detainees published in Turkish media, Amnesty International on May 28 launched a campaign demanding independent medical care for the detainees in Turkey’s southeast Sanliurfa province.

Turkey was ranked 109th out of 126 countries in the World Justice Project’s 2019 Rule of Law Index.

Widespread torture and ill-treatment across Turkey are indicated in the international reports released after the AKP government survived the coup attempt in 2016, including the US State Department’s annual reports on Turkey.

Upon being asked what he would want to say to his former student Abdulhamit Gul, Turkey’s Justice Minister who prepared the judicial reform strategy package, the professor said: “I would tell him that I expect nothing from him from now on.”

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