Erdoğan appoints judge notorious for convicting dissidents as deputy minister of justice

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed a Turkish judge known for convicting dissidents, including several senior opposition figures, as deputy minister of justice in a move described by many as a reward for making decisions favoring Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkish Minute reported.

According to the Thursday issue of the Official Gazette, controversial judge Akın Gürlek was appointed as one of four deputy ministers of Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, DW said.

Gürlek is known for his controversial rulings including the sentencing of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş to four years, eight months in prison for spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization and the sentencing of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s İstanbul provincial chairman Canan Kaftancıoğlu to nine years, eight months due to her social media posts.

Gürlek was the presiding judge of İstanbul’s 14th High Criminal Court, which defied a ruling of the Turkish Constitutional Court requesting that a lower court retry CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu, claiming that the order for a retrial was “interference in the decision made within the jurisdiction of our court.”

In December the same court also rejected a motion for the release of prominent businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who had been behind bars on a series of shifting charges since 2017, when his lawyers took the case to a higher court — the appeals court — after the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Nov. 26 had extended his imprisonment.

Gürlek is also known for convicting some members of Academics for Peace, who drew the ire of President Erdoğan by issuing a declaration demanding a peaceful solution to the country’s Kurdish issue and criticizing Turkish security forces for a heavy-handed response that saw citizens confined under long-lasting curfews in predominantly Kurdish cities under bombardment.

“It was clear that he would be rewarded. Hey ECtHR! Will you still say things like ‘domestic remedies have not been exhausted’ [for cases at Turkish courts]?” Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights advocate and deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said in a tweet criticizing Gürlek’s appointment.

Exiled journalist Can Dündar, who was declared a fugitive in Turkey and had been stripped of his assets by Gürlek’s court in 2020, also condemned the appointment.

“The palace [Erdoğan] gives the message ‘I’ll protect you’ to the bureaucrats against the warning of Kılıçdaroğlu, [who told them] ‘You’ll pay the price’ [for unlawful actions],” Dündar said.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been warning bureaucrats to refrain from engaging in the ruling AKP’s unlawful acts since the government will soon change hands and investigations will be launched into such acts.

In late September Turkey’s Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) had promoted Gürlek to the position of “first-class judge” despite its previous decision not to promote judges whose verdicts were overturned by the Constitutional Court for rights violations.

The HSK, Turkey’s top judicial administrative body, was set up to ensure an independent judiciary, but over time it has become a political instrument for putting the judiciary under government control.

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