Symbolic amnesty likely to mark AKP's judicial reform – constitutional law expert Ergun Özbudun

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this month announced a new era of economic and judicial reforms for Turkey, almost immediately after replacing key figures in the country’s economy management.

Former finance minister Naci Ağbal was appointed as the Central Bank’s governor, replacing Murat Uysal.

Soon thereafter, Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is rumoured not be on the best of terms with Ağbal, resigned from his role as finance minister via an open letter on Instagram. His resignation, accepted after some 27 hours, gave way to both and discussions.

As discussion around the reforms looms, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül has come out stressing the importance of the rule of law, noting that pre-trial detentions should be used as a last resort.

Gül’s statement has raised eyebrows in Turkey, prominent figures from Turkey’s civil society and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have spent several years in prison without conviction.

Last week, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) asked for the list of judges who refused to release businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison despite a ruling from European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last week.

The move has sparked a question as to whether there will be a period of inmate releases.

Dr. Ergun Özbudun, an expert on Turkish constitutional law and member of the recently-established opposition Future Party’s Political Discourse Advisory Board, told Ahval that he didn’t believe in the government’s sincerity in plans for a judicial reform. Özbudun thinks there will only be symbolic releases from prison for a select few.

”I am not convinced that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will enact a serious judicial reform,” Özbudun said, “because an extensive reform would mean a complete reversal of the government’s policies that go back years. I don’t think they seriously intend to do so, either.”

There could be some symbolic releases from prison, the constitutional law scholar said. “For instance, the release of Osman Kavala, the reinstatement of Enis Berberoğlu’s parliamentary status, etc.”

Kavala was arrested in Nov. 2017 and charged with funding and organising the massive anti-government protests of 2013, when a small peaceful demonstration to protect Istanbul’s central Gezi Park snowballed into some four million people around the country taking to the streets against Erdoğan’s government. He was acquitted this year, and then re-arrested on new charges pertaining to the July 2016 coup attempt before he could be released.

Opposition deputy Enis Berberoğlu was stripped of his parliamentary status on charges of revealing state secrets, for his involvement in what came to be known as the MİT trucks incident, where Turkish intelligence was accused of transporting weapons to Syrian jihadis.

Turkish law already stipulates that pre-trial detention is an exceptional circumstance, but, Özbüdün noted, arrest in the country has been “turned into an upfront punishment.”

“There most definitely won’t be a serious reform,” he continued. “Because the sea (of wealth) is drained. Turkey is now dependent on pennies.”

The government is promising reforms to interconnected spheres of the economy and the law “in a last ditch attempt to maybe inspire some hope in foreign investors and bring in hot money flow,” according to the constitutional law expert.  

Investors don’t come to countries where the law is shaky, and domestic investors would also take their money elsewhere, according to the scholar.

If an extensive reform was to be implemented, it should start with a change in the HSK’s status, Özbudun said.

As long as the HSK remains dependent on the government, he said, “We will continue to have these problems. And that requires a constitutional amendment, so won’t happen tomorrow.”

“But,” he said, “As long as this system stands, as long as the judiciary is made dependent on the government, we will have these issues.”