Turkey investigating judges who ruled for acquittal in case brought by gov’t ally

Turkish authorities are investigating judges who ruled that a controversial Facebook post about a political ally of the ruling party fell within the poster’s right to freedom of expression, Turkish media reported.

Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the body responsible for appointments, personnel matters and disciplinary action with respect to judges and prosecutors, demanded a defense from four judges who acquitted a suspect in a defamation case who allegedly insulted Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ultranationalist ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The MHP has supported all the actions of the AKP within and without the Turkish Parliament. The country’s traditional parliamentary system was replaced with a presidential system of governance in a referendum held in April 2017 with the support of the MHP.

The suspect, identified only by the initials H.E. allegedly shared a post on his Facebook account in 2017, saying: “I am at a loss to understand how on earth an honest, a [genuine] nationalist supporter of the MHP could follow the renegade and beguiling Devlet Bahçeli the AKP’s spare wheel. Every vote cast by the MHP is written to the account of the AKP. Are these people such jerks?”

Upon a complaint filed by Bahçeli’s lawyer, defamation charges were leveled against H.E. in a criminal court in the Mediterranean city of Antalya. The criminal court of first instance declared in its ruling that “the impugned remarks were not of a nature that go beyond the threshold of damaging the honor, dignity or respect of Bahçeli, although they were an exaggerated, rude and unkind way of expressing one’s thoughts, and politicians should be more tolerant than ordinary citizens of harsh criticism” and acquitted him. The acquittal was also upheld by a regional court in Antalya.

Not happy about the outcome, Bahçeli’s lawyer, Nizameddin Kocabey, filed an official complaint against the judges of both the first instance and the higher court with the HSK. The complaint is being handled by the HSK’s First Department.

Finding that an investigation should be launched into the judges “whose actions and behaviors were of a nature as to create the impression that they cannot perform their duties in an impartial and correct manner,” the First Department advised the minister of justice, who also serves in that capacity as president of the HSK, as required by law to permit that an investigation be opened into the judges.

Following the advice, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül approved the initiation of an investigation, after which the HSK opened a probe and demanded a defense from the four judges involved in the acquittal. Following the completion of the investigation the HSK will decide if it will take any disciplinary action against the judges.

After a failed coup attempt in 2016 the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dismissed more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors with emergency decree-laws issued during a two-year state of emergency, a move that had a chilling effect on the remaining judges and prosecutors, thus harming the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

The government has previously taken disciplinary and other punitive measures against judges and prosecutors who ruled unfavorably for the ruling party and its supporters.

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