Turkey’s justice system suffering under Erdoğan’s yoke - NY Times

Turkey’s judiciary is in state of disarray, with the lives of millions in the country tied up in tortuous legal procedures, and public trust in justice falling as low as it has ever been after nearly two decades rule under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wrote Carlotta Gall in the New York Times.

Once a promising EU candidate country, Turkey has been widely criticised in recent years for undermining the rule of law, particularly due to practices during a two-year emergency rule declared after a coup attempt in 2016. The country ranks 109th out of 126 countries in the 2018-2019 Rule of Law Index, a measure of how the rule of law is perceived in countries around the world by the influential non-profit civil society organisation World Justice Project.

The New York Times article pointed to the country’s courts as the most urgent example of Turkey’s downward spiral, citing legal professionals who noted that “purges and a persistent brain drain have rotted out the judiciary, and those judges still in their jobs are paralyzed by a climate of fear.’’

The most recent legal decision, which raised eyebrows across the world, was the decision by the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to annul the March 31 mayoral vote in Istanbul, which was won by the opposition by a narrow margin, and order a redo.

“As the judiciary entirely lost its independence, it became a force, a weapon of the political government,” the article quoted Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, a former judge and appeals court prosecutor, as saying. “This is not a problem in Turkey that just erupted in one day, but it is a problem that reached its peak under this government.”

The country’s prison population is now five times what it was when the Erdoğan’s rulng Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power 17 years ago and is at around 272,000, Mehmet Ali Kulat, the manager of a political research company, told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s court system is weighed down by the combined weakness of inexperienced judges and the heavy hand of government control, it said, noting that around 4,000 judges have been purged in the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup attempt, replaced by Erdoğan loyalists, many of whom are barely out of college.

It is under these circumstances that Erdoğan last month unveiled judicial reforms, focusing on serving the people, securing an independent judiciary, improving access to justice and shortening the length of trials. While Turkey’s strongman publicly guarantees an independent judiciary, his critics continue to accuse him of working to subjugate the country’s courts.

The article cited the case of the country’s most powerful judicial body, which appoints and removes judges, applies disciplinary measures and elects judges to the Supreme Court, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors.

With increased powers following the referendum in 2017, Erdoğan has had full control over the council; four of the 13 judges on the Council are selected by the president.

The fear of prosecution has paralyzed both the judiciary and academia, Gall wrote, quoting Cenk Yigiter, a former law professor at Ankara University who was purged from his job for signing a peace petition, as saying “So everybody has the fear of being purged or being branded as Gülenist.”

Being a labelled a Gülenist looms over the judiciary. Ankara accuses the Gülen movement of orchestrating the July 2016 coup attempt. Over 77,000 people accused of links to the Gülen movement, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, have been arrested and another 150,000 public employees suspended or sacked as part of an ongoing world-wide crackdown on the group by the Turkish government.