Turkey’s Judicial Purge Threatens the Rule of Law


Date posted: July 29, 2016

Noah Feldman

In the wake of the coup attempt, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan can hardly be blamed for purging the military. But firing 2,745 judges without any investigation or demonstrated connection to the coup is another matter. The action threatens the rule of law in Turkey going forward. And the way it was done signals some of the methods Erdogan can be expected to use in the weeks and months ahead.

Turkey is a constitutional democracy. If it sounds strange to you that the head of state could just fire judicial officials, your legal instincts are correct. Erdogan lacks that constitutional power — and technically, he didn’t exercise it.

The firing of the judges, which was reported on Saturday, July 16, just hours after the coup was put down, was the work of an entity called the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. (The Turkish acronym is HSYK). The council is the entity with the constitutional responsibility for supervising and disciplining members of the legal system in Turkey.

Until 2010, the council had just seven members, appointed by the country’s highest appellate court and its council of state. The 2010 constitutional referendum, proposed by Erdogan’s AK Party and adopted by a vote of roughly 58% to 42%, expanded the Council to 22 members and broadened the appointment process. The increased membership and new selection criteria enabled Erdogan’s party to take control of the council.

That control was on display in the council’s rapid response to the coup. Not only did the council fire the judges; it also reportedly fired as many as 10 members of the council itself. If accurate, that would mean that 12 of the 22 members fired the other 10.

On the council’s website, the only indication of the weekend’s happenings is a brief announcement in Turkish suspending leave for all judges — presumably because the judiciary will now be extremely shorthanded.

Given the speed with which all this occurred, there was obviously no investigation to see if the fired judges were part of the coup attempt. Indeed, unlike some members of the armed forces, judges took no visible role in the coup. There were no public legal pronouncements issued in connection with it.

So what criterion was used to fire the judges? The most likely answer is that those fired were on a pre-existing enemies list created by the AK Party. That list almost certainly consisted of judges thought to be connected to the Gülen movement, a religiously inspired order that teaches a peaceful, service-oriented version of Islam. Its leader, Fethullah Gülen, was on good terms with Erdogan and his regime until 2013. Since then, the split between the Pennsylvania-based Gülen and the government has become extreme, marked by deep hatred and mutual paranoia.

Erdogan and his party are blaming the coup attempt on Gülen sympathizers. Whether this is true or not is difficult to determine from the outside, and is likely to remain so. Gülen himself denied any connection to the coup. But his denial included praise for the supposedly peaceful coup participants. That hinted that Gülen might believe they actually thought of themselves as his followers.

Regardless of whether the coup plotters were connected to Gülen, summarily firing judges is about the worst thing that could be imagined for the rule of law. The problem isn’t only that all remaining judges are now presumably AK loyalists, or that any independent-minded judge who might remain is now on notice that the price of disloyalty might be firing. The problem is deeper, because firing judges signals to the entire population that the legal system is now subject to partisan discipline.

Turkey under the AK Party has never been perfectly democratic. In recent years especially, Erdogan has grown increasingly authoritarian. But the courts have resisted Erdogan’s dominance more than most other public institutions — until now. A purged judiciary can be expected to function as a rubberstamp.

All this matters internationally as well as domestically. Turkey has been enmeshed in complex negotiations with the European Union in which the country has sought concessions, including visa-free entry to Europe for its citizens, in exchange for containing and keeping millions of Syrian refugees. The negotiations have stumbled over the question of proposed anti-terror laws in Turkey that European leaders deemed insufficiently democratic.

But nothing in those proposed laws came close to undercutting Turkey’s justice system like the judicial purge does. If they want to be consistent, European leaders should insist on the reinstatement of the fired judges, or at least case-by-case adjudication of their alleged wrongdoing. The U.S. should make similar demands on its NATO ally. The future of the rule of law in Turkey lies in the balance.

  1. News reports unanimously refer to those fired as “judges.” It seems probable that some of the 2,745 were in fact prosecutors, since it’s inconceivable that Erdogan would leave in office prosecutors he considered potentially hostile.

 

Source: Bloomberg , July 18, 2016


Related News

I object to AK Party’s ‘New Turkey’ (2)

The problem is that there is a Turkey based on a single identity whose conservative/right-wing tone is more apparent rather than a pluralist vision.

Erdogan’s hunt for Gülenists, at home and abroad, includes abductions, torture and disappearances

Turkey’s crackdown has targeted ordinary citizens, suspected of links with Gülen’s Islamic movement. The country’s secret services have seized people in broad daylight, at home and abroad. Violence is used to extort confessions and denunciations. A victim speaks out.

Dozens of Dutch-Turkish businesses ‘threatened’ after failed coup

Business people associated with exiled opposition leader Fethullah Gülen, or accused of supporting him, have filed official police complaints, the Parool newspaper reported. The Dutch government last week called for Dutch Turks who had been targeted to contact the police.

Pro-gov’t troll says sympathizers of Gülen movement should be ‘wiped out’

A pro-government Twitter troll who frequently uses offensive language to insult prominent political and social figures who do not embrace the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) ideals and practices has this time called on supporters of the ruling party to kill members of the Gülen movement.

White House concerned over arrest of Turkish journalists

White House has expressed concerns over the arrest of Turkish journalists, including Zaman daily editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, called on Ankara to conduct investigations in a manner consistent with the rule of law.

GYV hosts guests from Istanbul’s Armenian Patriarchate at Abraham’s table

Armenian Co-Patriarch Aram Ateshian: “Orthodox Armenian Patriarchate hasn’t been recognized as a legal entity yet.” The gathering’s host, Journalists and Writers Foundation President Mustafa Yesil said, “Peace was established even on the ashes of a war in Europe that left 50 million dead. The 1915 incidents and sorrows shouldn’t hinder the establishment of peace.”

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Baseless allegations damage publicly traded firms

Kimse Yok Mu Becomes A Member Of Ecosoc

Losing rationality in politics and the economy

Recruiting based on ‘color lists’ breach of Constitution

Police pressure businessmen who sued Erdoğan over Hizmet remarks

Erdogan to become an all-powerful democratically elected dictator

Turkic American Alliance Condemns Government Takeover of Zaman

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News