UN special rapporteur: Turkey must ensure fair appeal for Judge Murat Arslan after ‘gross attack’ on judicial independence

Diego Garcia-Sayán

The authorities in Turkey must guarantee a fair appeals process for award-winning senior Judge Murat Arslan, who has been convicted in violation of due process and judicial guarantees, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia-Sayán said in a written statement on Thursday.

“The conviction of Judge Arslan, a former Chair of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors [YARSAV], constitutes a severe and gross attack on the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, and in a democratic state under the rule of law an independent and impartial judiciary is a fundamental guarantee for society as a whole,” said the UN human rights expert. 

The special rapporteur mentioned that “Murat Arslan has been in jail since his arrest on 18 October 2016. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by a court in Ankara after he was convicted of being a member of the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), which the Government of Turkey says was behind the attempted coup earlier that year” in his written statement.

Information received from several sources by the special rapporteur suggests that attacks and threats against members of the judiciary and lawyers as well as interference in their work have dramatically increased and become systematic over the past months.

“I remain gravely concerned at the adverse effects that the measures implemented by the Government of Turkey have had, and continue to have, on the equal and effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of targeted individuals as well as on the independence of the judiciary and the free exercise of the legal profession,” Garcia-Sayán added.

“We have received information suggesting that the legal process against Mr. Arslan was not transparent and did not satisfy the criteria for judicial proceedings designed to safeguard the legal rights of the individual,” he said.

Judge Murat Arslan, imprisoned YARSAV president.

“The proceedings against Judge Arslan could have an adverse effect on the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, since other judges may be deterred from exercising their judicial independence and freedom of expression for fear of being subject to disciplinary or criminal proceedings,” the expert added.

“The allegedly politically-motivated criminal proceedings against Judge Arslan have resulted in serious violations of guarantees set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and could also be regarded as an inappropriate interference with, and an act of reprisal for, the legitimate exercise of the profession of a judge,” said Garcia-Sayán.

The special rapporteur also stressed that concerns over the dismissal, arrest, arbitrary detention and conviction of judges, prosecutors and lawyers had been expressed in a large number of communications addressed to the government of Turkey, both alone and together with other mandate holders, since a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and the subsequent enactment of a state of emergency.

Arslan was awarded the prestigious Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2017 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). “Arslan is a staunch supporter of the independence of the judiciary.” said PACE in the announcement of the winner.

YARSAV, which used to be a member of the European-based Magistrats Europeans pour la Démocratie et les Libertés (MEDEL), was among the thousands of institutions closed down by the government in the first state of emergency decree issued in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

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