Top appeals court president raises public concerns over Turkish judiciary

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals President İsmail Rüştü Cirit has said there are serious concerns among the public over the judicial system in Turkey, especially after government purges of a third of the judiciary following a failed coup last year.

Speaking during the opening ceremony for the new judicial year in Ankara on Tuesday, Cirit supported government decrees that purged more than 4,400 prosecutors and judges over alleged links to the coup attempt and said: “Although the dismissal of judges and prosecutors who are members of terrorist organizations is remarkable achievement, the fact that about one-third of judges and prosecutors were in the middle of terrorist activities has made people lose confidence in the judicial system.”

“Judicial independence cannot be achieved in a system where the public does not have faith in the judiciary,” he said.

Meanwhile, former justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ tweeted that the Turkish judiciary is more just and relied on the law more than the European and US judiciaries.

“It doesn’t matter what people say. The Turkish judiciary is more dependent on the law and more just than any judiciary in Europe or the US,” he tweeted.

Speaking to Saygı Öztürk from the Sözcü daily on Tuesday, Supreme Court of Appeals Honorary President Sami Selçuk said public confidence in the Turkish judiciary is as low as 30 percent, although it used to be as high as 81 percent.

Criticizing government interference in the judicial system with decrees and purges following the failed coup, Selçuk said, “No one, other than the government, believes the Turkish judiciary is independent and impartial.”

Also speaking with Sözcü, Turkish Bar Associations President Metin Feyzioğlu criticized the Justice Ministry for not giving him the opportunity to speak at the opening ceremony and said he decided not to attend after seeing that he was invited as a part of the audience, not as a speaker.

During the judicial year opening ceremony in 2014, a quarrel between Erdoğan and Feyzioğlu erupted after Feyzioğlu, during his speech, strongly criticized Erdoğan and the government for intervening in the judicial system.

In 2016 the ceremony was held at the presidential complex, where a president, Erdoğan, for the first time delivered a speech at the event. The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), bar associations in Ankara, İstanbul and the Aegean city of İzmir, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) refused to attend the ceremony due to the change of venue.

The ceremony once again was held at Supreme Court of Appeals this year.

On the other hand, the İstanbul Bar Association released a statement on Tuesday on the opening of the new judicial year and criticized an ongoing state of emergency (OHAL) and government decrees (KHK), saying the government is using OHAL and KHKs to instruct the judiciary.

Criticizing long pretrial detentions without indictment, barring lawyers’ access to information on their clients’ cases and the arrest of lawyers, judges and prosecutors over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the statement said that “there is no justice without a defense and there is no defense without justice.”

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Erhan Usta has said the judiciary is acting in fear in investigations linked to last year’s coup attempt due to political pressure, the Diken news website reported on Monday.

Arguing that at least one-third of judges and prosecutors were dismissed due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement and that the current judicial system is unable to respond to the needs of Turkey, Usta called for a fair investigation that does not accuse innocent people.

“On top of that, when there is also political pressure, they [the judiciary] act in fear. A lot of people experience this. There is nothing in the indictment, but he or she is somehow arrested. This causes their situation to remain like that. Managers dismiss someone who has done something trivial, and judges and prosecutors decide on the continuation of their arrest even if there is nothing in the indictment. This should stop, it has been more than a year.”

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges. Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15.

The government is being widely criticized for taking the judiciary under its control and imposing pressure on its members to make politically motivated decisions.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Erdoğan has occupied all state institutions by turning last year’s July 15 coup attempt into an opportunity. (SCF with

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