Turkey’s OHAL Commission to speed up decision process amid suspicions and criticism

The State of Emergency (OHAL) Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) has reportedly been set to step up making decisions in a shorter period of time amid massive criticism and suspicions targeting it.

After victims have started to apply the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the OHAL Commission was decided to be set up as an interim mechanism in January allegedly to reduce the grievances in the process of dismissal.

As a solution to suppress outcry from Turkish public and international organizations over rights violations and arbitrariness, OHAL Commission began receiving applications from former public employees suspended from their posts on July 17, 2017 has ended the period for applications on September 14, 2017. However the commission led by openly Erdoğanist Deputy Undersecretary of the Justice Ministry, Selahaddin Menteş, has been criticized for being biased.

As data gathering processes by OHAL Commission, which was established on January 2017 to allegedly correct the mistakes done during massive purges by government decrees under the state of emergency (OHAL), declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, have been completed  amid criticism that the commission has been unable to give any solid results.

It has been reported in the pro-government media that officials from the commission said as of Jan. 10, 2018, over 104,398 people have applied to the commission, while 108,736 were dismissed from their duties. According to the report, the investigative process has been followed with a barcode system.

Following the government decree, the institution collects related data and when the applications are made, the data is used. Thus, the process to examine the applications will be substantially shortened, officials from the commission have claimed.

On Jan. 23, 2017 the OHAL Commission was established by Turkish government under the strict rule of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to evaluate and make decisions regarding complaints related to operations made under the state of emergency decree laws with the intention of unblocking administrative objection means.

The commission started to receive complaints in July and has seven members, three of whom were appointed by the prime minister, one by the Justice Ministry, one by the Interior Ministry and two by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK).

The committee can demand any information and documents from public institutions and judicial authorities except for documents subject to confidentiality as part of ongoing investigations or otherwise classified state secrets. Public institutions and judicial authorities are obliged to immediately provide the requested information to the commission and facilitate any inquiries.

The critics said the OHAL Commission, which aimed at reducing the applications to the ECtHR, began its duty on May 22, 2017 to handle the appeals made by those who were dismissed from their jobs, students whose scholarships were eliminated, retired security personnel taken their rank, and institutions that were closed. A total of 190 personnel, 28 judges, 30 inspectors and 40 experts are working for the commission.

The observers have also underlined the fact that it will not be even a matter of discussion that the objections for OHAL or arising from the statutory decree. For example, 22,000 teachers whose licenses have been canceled by the statutory decrees in the private schools are not seen eligible to apply the Commission. Likewise, judges and prosecutors have not been suspended due to the lists attached to the government decrees, but were dismissed with the decisions taken by the related authorities responsible for the institutions they have served.

ECtHR’s requirement of “run out of domestic jurisdictions” for application forced the Turkish government to form the OHAL Commission, as a kind of formality. With the establishment of OHAL Commission, the decision of ECtHR such as remitter or compensation has been prevented. According to complaints the government established the commission to take the process as slowly as possible, reducing reaction of victims and digesting them easily after dissemination of the solution over the years were aimed.

Moreover, with the return regulation for dismissed personnel, returning the vested rights has not been aimed. It is predicted that government’s placement of victims in institutions can be considered exile rather than the re-institution that the former ones was targeted. It is very likely that the OHAL Commission will make a positive decision about mistakenly dismissed government supporters, and only they will be returned to their jobs.

The Commission shall be responsible for dismissal from public service, severance of ties with the student, closure of the institutions such as associations, foundations, trade unions, federations and confederations, private health institutions, private education institutions, higher education institutions, magazines, news agencies, publishing houses and distribution channels and so on. However the Commission will not be able to decide on military students who are suspended under the emergency rule, public officials who have been struck off by institutional decisions, and persons for whom Ministry of Education has canceled their teaching license.

In the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, 26 decree laws (KHK) have been issued under the rule of emergency (OHAL) declared on July 20, 2016. So far 114 thousand 961 public officials were dismissed from their duties with these KHKs, 32 thousand 180 officials were struck off.

To date, there are 47 private health institutions, 881 private educational institutions, 108 private student dormitories, 104 foundations, 1,409 associations, 19 trade unions, 15 private universities, 5 news agencies, 17 TV channels, 22 radio channels, 46 newspapers, 20 journals, 29 publishing houses / distribution companies closed.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şenal Sarıhan had assessed the aim and the work burden of the Commission by stating that “According to calculations, every file will have only 65 second-long investigation. Giving seconds to a file means that the files will not, in fact, be reviewed. That is why, I think the Commission is like a stillborn child. What is right is to make regular legal mechanisms to work. There is a deception for the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR thinks that OHAL Commission is a functioning domestic remedy. However, with this regulation, people were both prevented from getting a result from ECtHR and making individual applications at the Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM). ”

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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

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 has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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