Top European court demands explanation from Turkish gov’t for pre-trial detention of judges, prosecutors after coup attempt

The European Court of Human Rights on June 11 notified the Turkish government of applications filed by 105 judges and prosecutors (Kuriş and 104 others) arrested and dismissed in the aftermath of a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016, demanding answers from the government justifying the grounds of their pre-trial detention, a document published by the court on June 29 shows.

The applicant judges and prosecutors were accused by Turkish authorities of membership in the faith-based Gülen movement, a dissident group that has been targeted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since corruption investigations in December 2013 implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the corruption probes as a Gülenist conspiracy, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to crack down on followers of the movement, a crackdown that intensified after the failed coup.

As part of the crackdown, Turkey’s Council of Judges and Prosecutors on July 16, 2016, early in the morning of the coup attempt, suspended 2,735 judges and prosecutors, including some of the applicants, on the grounds that they belonged to the Gülen movement, accused by the government of masterminding the abortive putsch, an allegation categorically denied by the movement.

The suspended judges and prosecutors were later dismissed from their jobs in lists appended to emergency decree-laws promulgated during a two-year state of emergency declared after the coup attempt and were eventually put behind bars. The rapid publication of the lists containing thousands of names prompted allegations that the government had prepared the lists of those to be fired even before the coup.

The applicants complained of a violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to liberty and security) on the grounds that they were remanded in detention in breach of the procedural guarantees provided for in domestic law for prosecutors and judges; that the length of their pre-trial detention was excessive; and that they did not receive effective legal assistance to challenge their detention.

In its notification the European court asked the Turkish government a series of questions, including if the pre-trial detention of the applicants took place “in accordance with the law”; if they had been detained on the basis of “reasonable grounds to suspect” that they had committed an offense; if the length of the applicants’ pre-trial detention was in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement; and if the applicants had at their disposal a remedy by which they could challenge the lawfulness of their deprivation of liberty.

Following the coup attempt, Turkish authorities dismissed with emergency decree-laws some 150,000 civil servants over their assumed links to the Gülen movement and other terrorist organizations, including 4,000 judges and prosecutors, and imprisoned a majority of them along with tens of thousands of others.

The European court had previously found in two cases involving the pre-trial detention of a judge (Hakan Baş v. Turkey) and a Constitutional Court member (Alparslan Altan v. Turkey) that the applicants’ pre-trial detentions were unlawful and devoid of any reasonable suspicion under Article 5 of the convention.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently found that the deprivation of liberty due to Gülen links of three individuals was arbitrary, lacked a legal basis and violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The working group further held that those with alleged links to the Gülen movement are being targeted on the basis of their political or other opinions, constituting a prohibited discriminatory ground.

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