Turkey’s top judge claims ‘only courts can release Brunson’

Turkey’s top appeals court judge has said American pastor Andrew Brunson can only be released by Turkey’s “independent and impartial courts.”

Speaking at an official ceremony to launch the new judicial year at the Presidential Congress and Cultural Center in Ankara on Monday, Supreme Court of Appeals President İsmail Rüştü Cirit referred to the Brunson case without mentioning the pastor’s name.

“The only and absolute power that can rule on the arrest of a foreign citizen in İzmir and make decisions about his trial is the independent and impartial courts, which use their judicial power on behalf of the Turkish nation,” Cirit claimed.

“Foreign states that claim to uphold ideals of democracy, human rights and the state of law should first respect the Republic of Turkey’s sovereignty, which is protected by international law,” he added. Cirit also blasted attempts to use “brute force to reverse this reality.”

The continued detention of Brunson has become a lightning rod in strained relations between Turkey and the US, leading Washington to slap economic and political sanctions on its NATO ally.

Brunson, who has been living in Turkey for more than two decades, is accused of helping the Gülen movement and supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The pastor was moved from prison to house arrest on July 25, and all of his appeals for release have been rejected since then. Brunson’s next trial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Turkey’s judiciary is being criticized for acting on orders from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and not basing their rulings on the law. Judges in Turkey who make decisions that anger Erdoğan are either replaced or jailed. Turkey has fallen to the 101st position out of 113 countries in the World Justice Project’s (WJP) 2017-18 Rule of Law Index, a comprehensive measure of the rule of law.

The Turkish government has arrested a total of 2,431 judges and prosecutors and dismissed 4,424 others since a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Constitutional Court general assembly ruling revealed on early August 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

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