Purged police officers continue to suffer in Turkey even after reinstatement

Police officers who were unlawfully dismissed from their government jobs but later reinstated by a government commission have been barred from returning to their original positions or are made to wait with no word from Turkish authorities.

According to a report by Independent Turkish published on May 9, 2020, officers who returned to work were appointed to the Research Center of the Ministry of Interior instead of the Security General Directorate, a low-level desk job that means a loss of both seniority and income for them.

The Turkish government dismissed some 130,000 civil servants including judges, prosecutors, military personnel, police officers, diplomats, teachers, doctors and other health personnel after a failed coup on July 15, 2016.

To be able to carry out such a massive and unparalleled cleansing of the state apparatus of dissidents whom it considered to be a threat to national security or who were affiliated with so-called terrorist organizations, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency that lasted two years, until it was finally repealed on July 18, 2018. In doing so, the government wielded huge discretionary powers and exceptional authority to legislate through emergency decree-laws not subject to judicial review accorded by the Turkish constitution to the government during a state of emergency.

Thus, during the state of emergency the Turkish government promulgated 37 decree-laws in which it introduced sweeping measures restructuring the state and society in myriad ways along with carrying out the purge of civil servants through lists containing names appended to the emergency decree-laws.

A government commission, the so-called State of Emergency (OHAL) Commission, was established under pressure from the Council of Europe as an appeals body for people who were dismissed from public service by the decree-laws. Thus, the European Court of Human Rights was relieved of a huge burden emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who had been dismissed from government posts.

According to Independent Turkish, 70 police officers who had been exonerated and reinstated by the OHAL Commission since October 2019 have not yet resumed their duties. This number could increase to 200, Independent Turkish stated.

Furthermore, those who did resume work were appointed to a government institution other than the one from which they had been dismissed. The authorities created a so-called Research Center within the Ministry of Interior pursuant to a regulation issued in May 2019. Thus, while the police officers who had been reinstated before May 2019 were able to return to their previous posts within the Turkish police, those who were reinstated after that date were appointed to the newly created Research Center of the Ministry of Interior.

This means not only a change of institution but also a loss of seniority and therefore a loss of salary in the amount of 2,000 Turkish lira (equivalent to $300) per month as government officials at the Ministry of Interior’s Research Center are ranked lower than the staff of the Turkish police.

A deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights defender, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, himself a victim of the purge, posed a parliamentary question to the interior minister asking the government why the reinstated police officers were not reappointed to their prior jobs and why there was differentiated treatment among them.

‘Waiter’s list becomes decisive’

The OHAL Commission makes use of a list provided by a secret witness codenamed “Waiter” (garson in Turkish) in its review of applications from dismissed police officers, according to Independent Turkish.

Accordingly, while applicants who have codes such as AD, 0, LANGUAGE or SCD beside their names in the profile notes given by the secret witness were reinstated, those who have been profiled with such codes as EA, SAY, SCA were rejected, even if no criminal charges had been leveled against them or they had been acquitted of all charges. According to the profile notes EA, SAY and SCA represent some sort of affiliation or connection of the person in question with the faith-based Gülen movement, a group that is critical of the Erdoğan government on a range of issues from corruption to Turkey’s arming of radical jihadist groups.

A decision of rejection by the OHAL Commission on the grounds that the applicant’s name appeared on a profile note showing his/her connection/affiliation with the Gülen movement. (Source: Independent Turkish)

The Gülen movement, led by reclusive cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in the US for more than 20 years, has for a long time been at loggerheads with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a variety of reasons, among them Gülen’s outspoken criticism of Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, his corrupt politics and his support for jihadist movements in Syria.

Yet the fallout between the movement and Erdoğan’s rule came with the corruption probes of December 17 and 25, 2013 which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his son, four of his ministers and several pro-government business tycoons. Erdoğan accused Gülenists of orchestrating the probes, which cost him and his government the much-cherished image of unsullied politics and politicians, hushed up the accusations and later dismissed and imprisoned all the police officers and prosecutors involved in the probes, branding the investigations as a Gülenist conspiracy.

From then on Erdoğan scapegoated the movement for virtually all the evils in the country. This process culminated in his designation of the movement as an armed terrorist organization and calling it derogatorily “FETO” (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization). He then seized all Gülen-inspired media outlets, the private Bank Asya and businesses owned partially or wholly by people affiliated with the movement.

Given this state of play, it is no wonder that the movement bore the brunt of a witch hunt carried out by the Turkish government after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Seeing the opportunity presented by the abortive putsch, which he portrayed as a “gift from God” and which he accused Gülen of masterminding, an accusation repeatedly denied by the cleric, Erdoğan declared an all-out war against anything and anyone who has the slightest link to the movement, locking up hundreds of thousands of real or perceived adherents of the movement, dismissing some 130,000 civil servants and seizing the assets of some of them. The state of emergency proved to be a convenient tool in redesigning post-coup Turkey.

In identifying Gülenists the Erdoğan government developed such criteria as using the ByLock smartphone application, having an account in the Gülen movement-affiliated Bank Asya; sending a son or a daughter to a Gülenist school; subscribing to the Zaman daily or other perceived Gülenist periodicals; membership in an association, foundation or trade union thought to be affiliated with the movement, which were, on their own or in conjunction with others, sufficient grounds to be accused of membership in “FETO” as evidenced by the tens of thousands put behind bars on such grounds. They were retroactively charged for their legitimate acts and activities, dismissed from government positions and imprisoned.

The OHAL Commission, for its part, adopted these criteria as a yardstick in reviewing the applications of dismissed civil servants. Hence, those who satisfy the above-mentioned criteria are not reinstated. In the event of rejection they have to seek other judicial remedies, starting with a first instance administrative court and ending with an individual application to the Constitutional Court that would take, according to the most modest estimates, more than six years.

According to 2019 Activity Report of the OHAL Commission, with 37 decree-laws issued during the state of emergency, it received a total of 125,678 applications pertaining to dismissals from public service. As of March 27, 2020, the commission had delivered 105,100 (11,200 approvals, 93,900 rejections) decisions. Fifty-seven of the approvals are related to the reopening of organizations (associations, foundations, television channels) that were shut down with emergency decree-laws. It means that slightly more than 10 percent of the applications to the commission resulted in approval (annulment of the dismissal).

Whether this OHAL Commission is an effective remedy that can provide a fair hearing as required by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is a legitimate concern. Indeed, some international organizations and experts voiced strong concerns over the effectiveness, impartiality and independence of the commission arising out of its composition and competence.

Be that as it may, the OHAL Commission was recognized by the ECtHR in a landmark decision (Köksal v. Turkey) as a domestic remedy to be exhausted before bringing a case before the court. According to the court although the OHAL Commission is a non-judicial body because its decisions are subject to subsequent judicial review, it constitutes in principle an accessible remedy. With this decision of the ECtHR, a long, time-consuming and complex legal avenue opened up to tens of thousands of dismissed civil servants whose applications had been rejected by the OHAL Commission.

Although this decision came with a caveat to the effect that the conclusion did not prejudge, if necessary, a possible re-examination by the court of the question of the effectiveness and reality of the remedy provided by the OHAL Commission, it is far from providing relief to the grievances of some 100,000 victims of the purge who must first seek domestic remedies that could take at least six years before justice is served.

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