CoE calls on Turkey to restore judicial independence

The Council of Europe has called on the Turkish authorities to restore judicial independence and stop the practice of targeting human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and silencing them by using administrative and judicial actions, in a report published on Wednesday.

The measurements taken by authorities in the aftermath of the two-year state of emergency rule that followed the failed coup attempt of July 2016 had devastating consequences on the country’s judicial independence and impartiality and threaten the rule of law and human rights in Turkey, the council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, wrote in a report based on her visit to the country in July 2019.

The Turkish government ended the nationwide state of emergency in July 2018, two years after a failed coup attempt that saw more than 250 people killed. Under the state of emergency, tens of thousands of people were arrested or dismissed from their jobs over suspected links to the Gülen movement, a religious group accused of orchestrating the failed putsch that is now designated a terrorist organisation.

“Turkish judiciary displays, especially in terrorism-related cases, unprecedented levels of disregard for even the most basic principles of law, such as presumption of innocence, no punishment without crime and non-retroactivity of offences, or not being judged for the same facts again,’’ the commissioner said. 

Adversarial proceedings, equality of arms and the right to a lawyer, were significantly and permanently eroded during the state of emergency, the report said, resulting in a level of legal uncertainty and arbitrariness that threatens the rule of law.

Turkey is ranked 109th out of 126 countries according to the 2019 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.

International non-governmental organisation Transparency International has ranked Turkey 91st among 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019. The country is Turkey ranked below 28 member states of the  European Union, and second to last among the 36 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Turkish authorities must revert to the situation before the state of emergency in terms of constitutional and structural guarantees for the independence of judges, as well as procedural fair-trial guarantees, the report said.

Despite the end of state of emergency rule, experts maintain concern that the increased powers it granted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have been made permanent under the new executive presidential system implemented after the 2018 parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Commissioner also highlighted the hostile environment against the country’s human rights defenders, pointing to detentions and sentences to silence activists, discouraging civil society engagement.

“The authorities should also establish transparent and objective criteria and procedures regarding public funding, consultation of and collaboration with civil society organisations active in the field of human rights,” the report said.