Dissenting judge in Khashoggi trial to quit profession after demotion

(Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

A Turkish judge who cast a dissenting vote against the transfer of the murder trial of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Riyadh has decided to quit the legal profession after he was replaced by the country’s top judicial body, in an apparent move by the Turkish government to punish the judge due to his opposing view in the trial, Turkish Minute reported.

Nimet Demir, head of the panel of the judges at the İstanbul 12th High Criminal Court, which in a controversial move in April decided to halt the murder trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the killing of the journalist and transfer it to Riyadh, was among the more than 5,000 judges and prosecutors replaced by Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) under a summer decree.

Demir submitted a dissenting opinion to the court’s decision, which was labelled as politically motivated, angered rights groups and dashed hopes about justice being served in the murder of Khashoggi.

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi Consulate General in İstanbul on Oct. 2, 2018 in a gruesome murder that shocked the world. Khashoggi had gone to the consulate to get papers for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

Demir was appointed as a judge to the southern province of Kahramanmaraş under the HSK’s summer decree, interpreted as a demotion for an experienced judge like him.

Journalist İsmail Saymaz from the pro-opposition Halk TV news website wrote on Monday that he talked to judge Demir on the phone on Monday morning and said the judge thinks his transfer is related to his dissenting opinion in the Khashoggi case.

Demir said he was not expecting such a move and was planning to submit his resignation in a sign of protest.

“I am planning to quit. It [Kahramanmaraş] is not a place for senior judges like me,” he said.

The judge said he was trying to act in line with democratic values, human rights and freedoms in expressing a dissenting view and has faced a sanction for his attitude.

“My attitude is the kind that will always be condemned in authoritarian structures,” he said, adding that he is talking to his family about his resignation and would soon submit a letter to that effect.

Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar hailed judge Demir’s decision to quit the legal profession after his transfer, saying in a tweet that when the rule of law is reestablished in Turkey, people like Demir will be remembered as the guardians of justice.

The HSK replaced 5,426 judges and prosecutors in its summer decree.

Among them was another dissenting judge in in the Gezi Park trial.

Judge Kürşad Bektaş, who was on the panel of judges in the Gezi Park trial heard by a high criminal court in İstanbul, has been appointed as a prosecutor in a small district in central province of Tokat. Bektaş recommended the acquittal of the eight defendants who included prominent businessman and civil society leader Osman Kavala.

The İstanbul court where Bektaş used to serve on April 25 sentenced Kavala, who had been behind bars without a conviction for over four years, to aggravated life on charges of “attempting to topple the government,” while sentencing seven other defendants to 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt due to their alleged role in the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013.

The ruling sparked international condemnation as well as protests across Turkey for being politically motivated.

Bektaş, who submitted a dissenting opinion to the court’s ruling, said there was no evidence against the defendants except for some wiretaps that were conducted illegally. He said there was not sufficient evidence against the defendants for a conviction; hence, they should be acquitted of the charges.

The Turkish government is being widely criticized for taking the judiciary under its control and imposing pressure on its members to make politically motivated decisions. The government has removed thousands of judges and prosecutors from their posts on coup charges since a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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