4 judges associations in Europe send letter to Turkish justice minister for release of jailed jurist

Judge Murat Arslan, imprisoned YARSAV President.

Several leading European judges’ associations have sent a joint letter to Turkish Minister of Justice Yılmaz Tunç calling for the denial of the conditional release of Murat Arslan, the jailed head of Turkey’s now-dissolved Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV), to be reconsidered, Turkish Minute reported.

Arslan was arrested in October 2016 as part of an investigation into the faith-based Gülen movement after being summarily dismissed from his job at the Court of Accounts in July 2016. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a high criminal court in Ankara in 2019 on charges of membership in a “terrorist organization,” in reference to the Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In March 2022, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the prison sentence handed down to Arslan.

Arslan remains in prison despite meeting the legal conditions for release.

The letter, signed by the presidents of the Association of European Administrative Judges (AEAJ), the European Judges Association (EAJ), Judges for Judges (J4J) and Magistrats Européens pour la Démocratie et les Libertés (MEDEL), expresses concern about the fairness and impartiality of judicial proceedings in Turkey, in particular those conducted at Sincan T Type closed prison in Ankara where Arslan is being held.

The associations pointed to the apparent inconsistent application of conditional release criteria in Turkish prisons and noted that prisoners in other facilities with similar profiles often receive conditional release.

Despite his good behavior, his applications for release continue to be rejected for reasons that critics consider arbitrary.

The European organizations call on the Turkish judiciary to uphold the principles of impartiality and equality before the law and demand an immediate and fair review of Arslan’s case.

The jailed jurist was also awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2017 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and was recognized again in 2022 with the Judicial Independence Award by the International Association of Judges for his enduring commitment to justice under challenging conditions.

YARSAV, which used to be a member of MEDEL, was among the hundreds of institutions closed down by the government in the first state of emergency decree issued in the aftermath of the failed coup.

Following the failed coup, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

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