Gov't plan to abolish special courts may damage democratic achievements
Retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, the former head of the 1st Army, is one of the key suspects under arrest as part of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup case. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Ali Ünal)
A government plan to pass a law that would abolish or significantly curtail the powers of Turkey's specially authorized courts, which deal with crimes against the constitutional order, organized crime, terror and drug trafficking, before Parliament adjourns for summer recess on July 1 may open a Pandora's' box in Turkey as it may lead to the release of hundreds of gang members, drug traffickers and terrorist and terror suspects, prompting public outrage against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Specially authorized courts, established in 2004 in line with the EU reform process, were credited with dismantling gangs and organized crime in Turkey and going after coup-plotting senior generals for the first time in the republic's history, which saw four military coups and numerous attempts. Jurists warn that significant change in these courts' powers or abolishing them altogether may result in severe results in Turkey, making the democratic achievements go backwards. It may also lead to the release of suspects that were charged with serious crimes. Nearly 800 suspects are jailed as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, the Balyoz coup plot, the investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and other trials. In the case of such releases, a number of subversive plans to save the suspects -- which were revealed recently with the exposure of several voice recordings allegedly featuring the voices of some of those suspects -- will have been accomplished. In the recordings, the suspects make mention of alleged plans by Parliament to make a number of amendments in Turkey's laws to release them from prison.
On Wednesday, several Turkish newspapers published reports that said the AK Party government is planning a revision of Article 250 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), which gives special authority to courts and prosecutors when investigating organized crime and coup plots. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said last month that these courts may be totally abolished. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay verified the reports later in the day and said “works are ongoing to insert an article for a revision on the CMK Article 250 to the third judicial reform package.” According to the government's plans as reported in the newspapers, specially authorized courts will be abolished and replaced with “terrorism courts,” which will hear ongoing terrorism and coup-related cases.
An intra-AK Party commission chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has already begun working on amendments to the CMK and the proposed changes are expected to be completed this weekend, according to rumors.
The government’s plans on special courts have sparked a public fury, with Turkey’s legal community speaking against the plans. The timing of the plans is thought-provoking, according to the legal community, as the plans have come shortly after a number of voice recordings suggested that Parliament will pass a bill soon to set suspects in the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup cases free.
Şamil Tayyar, an AK Party deputy who also writes columns for the Star daily, said that abolishing specially authorized courts may void all the democratic achievements the country has gained in the last decade, adding that an amendment to Article 250 may adversely impact the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, leading to the release of suspects. “Turkey cannot cope with such a result,” he warned.
The expectations of some coup and terrorism suspects of being released from prison were made clear in two voice recordings that were posted online in May. In one recording, Rear Adm. Cem Aziz Çakmak, a jailed Balyoz suspect, allegedly said that military officers under arrest would seek revenge for the case after they were released from prison, hurting many, including children. In an earlier voice recording, a person believed to be Rear Adm. Fatih llgar was heard saying that coup suspects in prison were set to be released in around two months thanks to a bill to be voted on in Parliament soon, and the suspects would start a civil war to retaliate against the government for their arrest.
The government has also reportedly discussed with the opposition its intentions to abolish special courts and has received support for passing the package before July. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a staunch critic of special courts, publicly voiced this support for the government’s move on Wednesday and said these courts should be abolished.
Article 250 of the CMK 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 and Ergenekon trials, in which suspects are accused of attempting to overthrow the government, in addition to a case against the KCK, in which suspects are accused of involvement in terrorism. Currently, dozens of suspects -- including active duty and retired members of the military, businessmen, journalists and politicians -- are under arrest in connection with these cases.
In an interview in early June, Erdoğan pledged that if an amendment were made to the article it would not weaken Turkey’s hand in its fight against coups and coup-plotters. However, jurists are worried that a move to abolish special courts or divest special prosecutors of their authority could impede the ongoing coup cases.
According to retired military judge Faik Tarımcıoğlu, who spoke to Today’s Zaman, both the government and the judiciary in Turkey will face difficulties if special courts are abolished. He said Turkey is in desperate need of special courts and prosecutors to continue its fight against coup-plotters and gangs. “Turkey is faced with an extremely developed system of gangs. It will not be able to win its fight against gangs unless it manages to improve its judicial system. … The primary way to do away with those gangs is to preserve special courts and prosecutors,” Tarımcıoğlu said.
Today’s Zaman also spoke with Professor Bahri Öztürk, an instructor at İstanbul’s Kültür University, who cautioned that Turkey will “lose all gains in its fight against coups and gangs” if special courts are abolished. “Turkey’s gains in its fight against the mafia, terrorism and gangs since 2002 have come thanks to special courts. … But we are seeing a reversal now. The gains are being lost,” he complained, adding that Turkey had better make amendments to certain problematic articles of its Anti-Terror Law instead of revising Article 250 of the CMK.
Additionally, Professor Hakan Hakeri of Selçuk University told Today’s Zaman that the ongoing coup and terrorism cases will be forwarded to other courts when the special courts are abolished, which means these cases will have to begin from scratch. In such a case, Turkey would lose a great amount of time in dealing with these cases. “If an amendment is made to the CMK, it should be done after these ongoing cases are completed. [Otherwise,] new judges would have to examine the case files from the beginning. They would have to correspond with the relevant institutions, and this would prolong the cases,” Hakeri stated.
*Habib Güler, Ömer Oruç and Resul Cengiz from Ankara, İzmir and Denizli contributed to this report.
CHP, BDP pleased with gov’t plans to abolish special courts
Plans by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to abolish specially authorized courts during discussions of the third judicial package in Parliament have pleased the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), who have long called for the removal of these courts.
“No specially authorized courts exist in democracies. These are courts for carrying out ops for the government, they are like courts of martial law,” said CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Wednesday.
The BDP Group Deputy Chairman Hasip Kaplan said his party would support the abolishment of specially authorized courts but they would voice opposition if the government replaces these courts with “anti-terrorism courts.”
BDP and CHP have a total of seven deputies jailed by specially authorized courts on coup attempt or terrorism related charges, including the Ergenekon and Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) trials.
Ergenekon is a shadowy crime network which has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government while the KCK is an umbrella organization, which prosecutors say encompasses the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The CHP and the BDP had earlier prepared a proposal for the abolishment of specially authorized courts. Habib Güler Ankara