COMMENTARY — Radical Islamists tapped to be judges and prosecutors in Turkey

By Abdullah Bozkurt

A key pro-government association rooted in religious fanaticism and a jihadist mindset has been serving as a springboard for staffing Turkey’s judiciary as a new generation of judges, prosecutors and jurists is chosen to replace thousands of veteran judges and prosecutors who were purged, exiled or otherwise jailed.

The Association for Justice Volunteers (Adalet Gönüllüleri in Turkish, or Adalet-Der) used to be an obscure and marginal entity when it was set up in 2006 by a group of Islamist lawyers. It was tapped by the government as a sort of human resource management company to recruit new candidates to be judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of major corruption investigations that were made public in December 2013 and incriminated then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, who briefed lawmakers in the Planning and Budget Commission on Nov. 23, 2017, the government has purged 3,945 judges and prosecutors since July 15, 2016. The Justice Ministry dismissed 5,813 employees in the same period. It immediately hired 4,653 judges and prosecutors without any training; most were lawyers who were members of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Gül said 3,566 candidate judges and prosecutors who are waiting to be appointed to benches and offices would start their jobs before year’s end. He also admitted that the much-criticized practice of hiring lawyers as judges and prosecutors would stop and that they would now focus on training and education.

No big deal. That training and education was already being provided by pro-Erdoğan associations, which should set off alarm bells for those who are concerned about radicalization in Turkey. Adalet-Der is not the only Islamist organization that sends candidates to the Justice Ministry to become judges and prosecutors, but it certainly stands out from the rest because of high-profile events. Adalet-Der had long been led by Bilal Temel, a lawyer who served in senior positions in Erdoğan’s ruling AKP and currently holds a powerful position as deputy secretary-general of the AKP. Under his watch Adalet-Der, whose name was changed to Adalet ve Medeniyet (Justice and Civilization) after it started publishing a quarterly magazine under the same name in 2015, has turned out to be a vetting mechanism for new judges and prosecutors in Turkey.

The meetings, seminars and workshops organized by the group have been attended by government ministers and senior members of the judiciary including the justice minister and members of the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the Supreme Court of Appeals. Yılmaz Akçil, head of the Justice Academy, which controls the training and education of candidate judges and prosecutors, has grown quite fond of the group. Since it has the full backing of the Erdoğan government, Adalet ve Medeniyet has been busy in moving young Islamists into government positions as judges and prosecutors.

Looking at the keynote speakers invited to the seminars, lectures and workshops that were organized by this association, one cannot help but wonder what kind of culture Erdoğan has been cultivating in the Turkish judiciary. Perhaps one that is far worse than what it is today, which is already quite bad. One person who had given lectures to members of Adalet ve Medeniyet on more than one occasion is jihadist cleric Nureddin (or Nurettin) Yıldız, a man who openly endorsed jihadist wars from Syria to China. Yıldız had close ties to the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hassan Abboud, also known by his nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, who was killed in September 2014. He had pictures taken with Abboud during a visit to İdlib, a bastion of al-Qaeda militants. Abdallah Muhammad Bin Sulayman Al-Muhaysini, an Al-Qaeda cleric of Saudi origin who is among the leaders of al-Qaeda group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria, urged Turks to read the books of Yıldız, in a special video message addressed to Turkish youth.

Yıldız’s venomous preaching has already taken a toll. An al-Qaeda-linked Turkish police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, on Dec. 19, 2016, was found to be among attendees of his study circle. The policeman was believed to have been inspired by Yıldız to murder the ambassador over Moscow’s campaign in Syria against jihadist groups. He has been a lecturer at Erdoğan’s ruling AKP youth branches and an active cleric in foundations run by Erdoğan’s family. The cleric appears to hold sway over the Turkish judiciary given the fact that a criminal probe into him was dropped after he gave his blessing to marrying girls as young as 6, which sparked public outrage. This hate-spewing man also advocated a view that members of the Gülen movement, a civic group that is highly critical of Erdoğan over corruption and the Turkish government’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups, must be executed, hanged and their arms and legs cut off.

Another person closely involved with the association is Bülent Yıldırım, who has been in bed with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in running jihadist networks in many countries. Yıldırım leads the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or İHH, in Turkish), an organization that was found to be moving arms and ammunition to Syria and Libya under the cover of humanitarian aid. İhsan Şenocak, another radical cleric who advocated the view that girls wearing trousers and going to universities would go to the hell, is listed as among guest speakers invited by Adalet ve Medeniyet to indoctrinate law faculty students.

The association is also close to the Doha-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which is led by Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who endorsed suicide bombings and armed rebellion in Syria. The IUMS, listed in November 2017 as a terrorist group by a Saudi-led bloc of Arab states, has been expanding its branches in various Turkish provinces with the generous support and backing of the Erdoğan government in the last couple of years. Hamdi Arslan, a 61-year-old Saudi-educated Turkish cleric who is a member of both the IUMS and the İHH, was among guest speakers who addressed young people being nurtured to become judges and prosecutors in the future. There is a long list of Islamists who are well connected to this group and who give rose to further concerns.

For anyone who wonders what kind of judges and prosecutors these young people would turn out to be after systematic and indoctrinating lectures from known jihadist figures, three names that also attended Adalet ve Medeniyet meetings as speakers may shed some light on what Turkey will be facing down the road. The profiles and track records of two prosecutors and one judge, all notorious figures who have ties to the association, present quite a worrying picture for the future state of the Turkish judiciary.

One is İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Fuzuli Aydoğdu, who launched a terrorism investigation into Zaman, Turkey’s one time best-selling daily, and ordered the unlawful seizure of the media group on March 4, 2016. The government-appointed caretakers changed the editorial line of the group from critical into staunchly pro-government overnight and fired around 600 journalists from the newspaper. The police violently stormed the newsroom, destroyed the daily’s entire archive and permanently took down its website. In July 2016 Aydoğdu also ordered sweeping detention orders for 47 critical and independent journalists on fabricated terrorism and coup plotting charges. Many are still behind bars today.

The second name associated with Adalet ve Medeniyet is İstanbul 3rd Penal Court of Peace judge İslam Çiçek, who has also appeared at this association’s workshops and events. He is the judge who released Reza Zarrab, the main suspect in Turkey’s largest ever corruption investigation that was exposed in December 2013, from jail. Zarrab bribed senior government officials millions of dollars in exchange for Iran’s money laundering, illegal sanctions-busting trade and smuggling activity in and through Turkey. Zarrab was arrested by the FBI in the US and indicted but later cut a plea deal and became a witness for the US government. He is now revealing all the dirty schemes he was involved in with Turkish government officials and fingered President Erdoğan as the man who was at the center of this massive graft scheme.

The third person attached to the association is İsmail Uçar, the chief public prosecutor in Istanbul’s Anadolu district. He has been the point man in preparing a series of indictments against Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s chief critic. Many indictments against critical and independent journalists were also drafted by this man. The most bizarre indictment filed by Uçar was against police investigators who investigated Yasin al-Qadi, listed by the US Treasury as a “specially designated global terrorist” and sanctioned by the UN as an al-Qaeda financier at the time. Prosecutor Uçar claimed that the police chiefs tried to discredit al-Qadi in the eyes of the Turkish public.

Al-Qadi had been meeting with Erdoğan, his son and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan while he was still on the terrorism list. The UN imposed sanctions on al-Qadi in 1999 and 2000, when he was named in UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1333 as a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden’s terror network, al-Qaeda. The UN sanctions committee granted al-Qadi’s petition to be removed from its blacklist only on Oct. 5, 2012. The US removed his name much later. In any case, Erdoğan was not only violating the UN sanctions resolutions but also breaking Turkish laws because his own government on July 24, 2003 had placed al-Qadi on a list of foreigners whose entry into Turkey was banned. Yet al-Qadi was secretly entering Turkey under the protection of Erdoğan and was travelling freely within the country. Turkish prosecutors had every right to investigate him under the laws in effect at the time.

This is not only a problem for Turkey; it also presents serious threats and challenges for Turkey’s allies and partners. Foreign nationals were detained, arrested, indicted and jailed as a result of these Islamist and neo-nationalist prosecutors and judges. The farcical criminal probes targeting foreign journalists, academics and government officials including a sitting US senator and a US federal prosecutor were launched by these fanatics in the Turkish judiciary. Considering that candidates for judges and prosecutors will be selected mainly from the pool of human resources provided by these radical Islamists, we’ll definitely see more absurd investigations, indictments and trials.

If one thing is for sure, it is that Erdoğan and his thugs are bent on abusing the criminal justice system in order to jail, harass, blackmail and intimidate their critics and opponents. They will have more foot soldiers to fill the ranks of the judiciary if Erdoğan continues to cling to power in Turkey. (

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