Political interference in judiciary damages Turkey - columnist

Apparent political interference in the judiciary is doing damage not only to the reputation of the courts but also to Turkey’s interests in general, wrote Taha Akyol, a columnist at secular newspaper Hürriyet.

“On political and diplomatic issues, and especially more critical issues such as the return of criminals, does it not exceed belief when we say the words ‘we too have the rule of law’?” he asked.

“While being believable on the subject of judicial independence and impartiality could be the greatest weapon in Turkey’s hand in terms of fighting terror, gaining respect in foreign relations and the return of criminals, we are hurting ourselves by our own hand.”

Akyol pointed to the law being changed in 2014 to decriminalise orders being given to judges and prosecutors at the investigation stage, and the members of the Board of Judges and Prosecutors being “completely appointed by politicians”, as signs of the system becoming corrupted.

Turkey does not have a jury system, so judges also decide on the guilt of those tried, making them a crucial factor in many political cases.

Among recent cases in which judges had been removed from the case for political reasons, Akyol said, were the two judges in the espionage case against Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentarian Enis Berberoğlu, two other judges in different cases relating to the downloading of a mobile phone application said to be common among Gülen movement members, and the two judges in the Soma mining disaster case.

On the same day as Akyol’s article, Turkey’s third-largest political party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), responded sardonically to the news of two of their parliamentarians being given jail sentences with the phrase “two more judicial decisions to order”.

As Akyol puts it, “It is not enough for courts to be independent and impartial; public opinion must also believe them to be so.”