Justice delayed is justice denied: Another purge victim reinstated to his job postmortem

Photo: Eğitim Sen

Mehmet Nasır Sönmez, a teacher who was fired from his job by a government decree without due process, was reinstated two months after his death on November 7, 2020, sparking an outcry among human rights activists.

According to the Evrensel Daily, Sönmez was fired on February 7, 2017 and applied to the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) demanding to be reinstated. However, the commission did not decide on his case until after his death.

Sönmez was one of more than 130,000 civil servants who were removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny. He was a member of the left-wing Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen).

The Eğitim Sen branch in his home town of Tekirdağ in northwestern Turkey said they could not feel happy about Sönmez’s reinstatement. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” the union said. “We have said this again and again and will never tire of saying it. All our [purged] friends will be reinstated.”

The OHAL Commission was established in January 2017 for appeals against measures taken by the Turkish government during a two-year state of emergency declared in the aftermath of an abortive putsch in July 2016.

During the state of emergency the Turkish government carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight against its political opponents. In addition to summarily removing over 130,000 public servants as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces, the government also shut down 164 media organizations, 1,058 educational institutions and 1,769 NGOs with emergency decree-laws without any due process. The victims were not allowed to contest the decisions in court.

The OHAL Commission was established as an appeals body under pressure from the Council of Europe in order to relieve the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of a huge workload emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who couldn’t take their cases to Turkish courts. According to critics, the commission’s role is simply to delay or prevent possible ECtHR decisions against Turkey. The commission is also accused of bias as it is led by former Justice Ministry deputy undersecretary Selahaddin Menteş, who had been openly supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

As of December 31, 2020 the commission had made decisions on 112,310 of a total of 126,630 applications. It ruled in favor of the applicants in only 13,170 of the cases.

In its Turkey 2020 report, the European Commission (EC) raised serious concerns about the ability of the commission to provide an effective remedy against dismissals. The report criticized the lengthy review procedures and underlined that the applicants did not have a proper means of defense as the commission does not hold hearings. The EC also said the commission did not have sufficiently individualized criteria to evaluate the applications.

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