On 19 March, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) held a special debate on the current state of parliamentary democracy in Turkey. Not surprisingly, the main issue on the agenda of the Standing Committee was the imprisonment sentence against Mr Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, a resilient defender of human rights and an MP from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Except for the Justice and Development Party’s ((AKP) Ahmet Yıldız from Turkey and Mr Seyidov from Azerbaijan, all speakers of the Standing Committee voiced their concerns over the orchestrated attack by the so-called courts and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP on democracy and its representatives. J. Howell, the PACE’s co-rapporteur for Turkey stressed once again, the constant decline in the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in the country.
Mr Gergerlioglu had been sentenced to imprisonment over a social media post from five years ago. Last week, his sentence was upheld by the Court of Cassation. A few days after this farcical decision, he was speedily and unconstitutionally been stripped of his MP status in the Parliament with support from AKP and its ultranationalist ally, the National Movement Party (MHP).
On the very same day, the Chief Prosecutor of the same court filed a case before the Constitutional Court to seek the closure of his party, HDP.
Another point which makes this story particularly important is that his verdict was upheld by the Court of Cassation a few days before the so-called Human Rights Action Plan was announced by Erdogan. So, the story of Mr Gergerlioglu and HDP tells a lot about this Action Plan in the shade of fading hopes for democracy and rule of law in Turkey under Erdogan’s rule.
In the joint statement by High Representative Josep Borell and the Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, the EU’s concerns regarding the backsliding in fundamental rights in Turkey have been repeated. As a candidate country, Turkey has been urged to stop this tendency which undermines the “credibility” of the Turkish authorities’ stated commitment to reforms.
As rightly criticised by the Council’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in its recent report, subordination of the judiciary to Erdogan is one of the main reasons for the current troubled situation for democracy and fundamental rights in Turkey. It is high time to talk about the judiciary as the root cause of the problem.
As briefly mentioned in my previous piece, a new report on Judicial Independence and Access to Justice in Turkey has been recently published by the Turkey Tribunal. The report displays the actions by public authorities, especially the role of the judiciary, began occurring in Turkey in 2010 with a special focus on the dramatic decline of judicial independence after July 2016.
The author of the report is Luca Perilli, an Italian judge who was the pen behind almost all the reports issued by the EU and CoE between 2008 and 2015 on Turkish justice system. So, his observations reflected in the report constitute a kind of “deck log” for the adventure of judiciary and fundamental rights in Turkey.
Acknowledging the fact that the judiciary was never independent in Turkey, Perilli revealed how things turned catastrophic for the Turkish judiciary after the government’s reaction to the famous graft probes of December 2013. As in his report, Perilli pointed out Erdogan’s response to Gezi Park protests and the corruption scandal of 2013 as the breaking point for the rule of law and democracy in Turkey.
In the report, the mass dismissal of 4500 judges and prosecutors which corresponded to one third of the judiciary as of 2016, and the employment of more than 11,000 “loyal” and “accredited” ones in the following four years by the government, is shown as the main factor that brought the judiciary under control. Around 2,500 of these judges and prosecutors have been put in jail for being members of a so-called terrorist organisation.
Scrutinising the lack of access to justice in a country where the ECHR judgments are not respected by the Constitutional Court itself, human rights defenders and lawyers are intimidated with pretext of bogus terrorism charges, the report concludes that access to justice by any means is denied in today’s Turkey.
During a high-level webinar which convened the most competent names in the area of judicial independence world-wide, the report has been discussed thoroughly. Diego Garcia Sayan, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, stressed once again that judicial independence is not for the judges themselves, but to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens effectively. Sayan also reiterated that he will insist on official fact-finding visits to Turkey with a view to urging the government to comply with the UN standards.
Mr. Fillipe Marques, president of MEDEL (European Judges for Democracy and Liberties), mentioned Murat Arslan, president of YARSAV who has been in jail since 2016. He said Mr Arslan is a clear example of the model judge with the bravery to stand up for human rights. Mr Marques also criticised the ECHR for lacking efficiency especially in terms of failing to deliver its judgments in reasonable time and for failing to present interim measures in urgent situations.
Mr Jose Matos, president of the European Assocation of Judges, slammed this recklessness and arbitrariness again. He explained the endeavours by the Platform for an Independent Judiciary in Turkey, which comprises EAJ, MEDEL, AEAJ and Judges for Judges. Reiterating that they do not recognise the closure of YARSAV, he mentioned 95 statements published in support of the colleagues.
Now, we will see if other political priorities like trade balances and appeasing Erdogan under the name of refugee deal will again prevail during the EU Summit on 25-26 March. In other words, will the EU accept becoming complicit in the eradication of rule of law in its “strategic partner”, or will it utilize the tools to uphold the values in its “candidate country”?