In a development that came as a shock to many, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said specially authorized courts may be totally abolished. The prime minister's remarks came in direct contradiction of an earlier statement by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who said no revision was planned by the Justice and Development party (AK Party) government to overhaul three Code on Criminal Procedures (CMK) articles concerning special courts and prosecutors.
Erdoğan told reporters on Monday afternoon there is “a problem concerning Article 250” of the CMK, which gives special authority to courts and prosecutors when investigating organized crime and coup plots, and that the Ministry of Justice is working on a revision of the article in question. In response to a question as to whether the planned revision may seek to abolish special courts, Erdoğan said, “Any option is on the table.”
The prime minister added that the said revision would not be included in the third or fourth judicial reform package.
For the past two weeks Turkey has been discussing a supposed government-sponsored plan to revise CMK Article 250. The possible amendment has raised concerns among Turkey’s legal community about the future of ongoing coup cases. Several jurists have said Turkey would lose strength in its fight against coups and activities opposed to constitutional order and the national will, if it was indeed proposed to divest civilian prosecutors of their authority to investigate crimes committed against the constitutional order.
Following a Cabinet meeting on Monday evening, Arınç told reporters no revision is planned regarding Articles 250, 251 or 252 of the CMK. He said the specified articles had not been included in the previous three judicial reform packages and they would not be included in the fourth, either as a bill or as a draft. He also stated the media began discussing amendments to the CMK after Erdoğan and other ministers expressed “their personal opinion” on the issue.
CMK Article 250 gives civilian prosecutors the power to investigate military personnel accused of crimes that threaten national security, violate the Constitution or attempt to topple the government during peacetime. Some of the most important cases undertaken by specially authorized courts are the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trial and the Ergenekon trial, in which suspects are accused of attempting to overthrow the government, in addition to a case against the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), in which suspects are accused of being involved in terrorism.
In an earlier interview Erdoğan pledged that if an amendment were made to the CMK Article 250 it would not weaken the hand of Turkey in its fight against coups and coup plotters. Arınç’s statement about the CMK article met with satisfaction, albeit partial, in Turkey’s legal community.
AK Party Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik, who spoke with reporters in a live TV broadcast on Monday, had also contradicted Arınç’s statement. Çelik said “work on the planned CMK amendment as described by the prime minister [was] under way.”
Reşat Petek, a retired chief public prosecutor, told Today’s Zaman that the AK Party government would be making a critical mistake in its anti-coup fight if it removed the authority of special courts and prosecutors. “We need to trust Arınç’s statement because he is both a deputy prime minister and the government spokesperson. The AK Party has made the fight against illegal groups, coup plotters and the military junta a government policy. It would not be reasonable to believe that the government would weaken the judiciary’s efforts for a coup-free Turkey,” he said.
However, the retired prosecutor was not fully convinced that the government would not put the CMK amendment back on its agenda in the future. “The government is currently working on a new judicial reform package. Its content is unknown. No one knows what will be included in the new package. Nevertheless, it would not be right to suggest that the government will include the CMK amendment in the new package,” Petek noted.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli addressed his deputies in a parliamentary speech on Tuesday, saying that the government should avoid taking any steps to abolish special courts and prosecutors. “Despite all its negative aspects, special courts should continue to remain, yet they should not be allowed to be engaged in efforts to delay justice,” he stated.
Lawyer Hasan İlter said he did not believe the government would take any steps to abolish special courts or strip special prosecutors of their authority, adding that such a step would result in a huge loss of public confidence in the government. “The government has secured the support of the people thanks to its efforts to confront coups and coup plotters. An attempt to abolish special courts would result in people’s reluctance to continue to support the government,” İlter noted.
Also on Monday, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek spoke to reporters about the debate surrounding the supposed revision to CMK Article 250, remarking that the government should be extra cautious if it intends to revise the article. He said such a revision may result in the release of criminals from prison and instigate chaos in society. “Many other criminals may benefit from an amendment that is aimed at saving a few suspects from prison. Chaos would be sparked in society in such a case. No one could explain to people why all those criminals were released,” he said. When a plan to amend Article 250 of the CMK first hit the Turkish agenda, jurists warned the government that the planned amendment might result in the release of nearly 800 suspects jailed as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, the Balyoz coup plot, the KCK investigation and other trials.
Çiçek’s remarks were followed by a call from Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), for the AK Party government to make legal arrangements allowing coup suspects to be released from prison. CHP Sivas deputy Malik Ejder Özdemir visited the Silivri Prison in İstanbul where suspects in the Ergenekon case are held, along with members of a parliamentary commission investigating conditions of prisons that currently host suspects in a number of major cases, Özdemir spoke to reporters after the visit and said suspects in the Balyoz and Ergenekon cases have expectations that the government will make legal arrangements to release them from prison pending trial.
Özdemir also told reporters about his conversation with former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is now under arrest as a suspect in the investigation into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit the AK Party, in prison. Başbuğ reportedly complained to the deputy that special courts hearing organized crime cases tend to arrest all suspects without any sound evidence to suggest their involvement in a crime.