GYV calls on government to respect judiciary amid corruption probe

Police officers took documents, money counters and other items confiscated during the graft operations to the National Police Department on Monday. (Photo: İHA)

December 30, 2013, Monday/ 15:08:00

The government should respect Turkey's independent judiciary as a corruption probe that has implicated senior members of the ruling party deepens, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), whose honorary chair is Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, said in a statement published on its website on Monday.

“For the collective conscience and general public to be convinced that justice is being done properly, everyone -- particularly including the government and the people and organizations it has links with -- must respect the independent judiciary, which passes judgment in the name of the nation as enshrined in the Constitution and [Turkish] law,” the GYV said.

“At this point, the people charged with corruption can be acquitted only if the judicial process is respected and the completion of this process without any intervention is ensured,” the statement added.

There is growing concern in Turkey that the government has been meddling with the judiciary in a bid to cover up an investigation that has implicated former Cabinet members, deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), prominent citizens and close relatives of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The government has dismissed hundreds of police officers involved in the investigation and removed the lead prosecutors from the case.

In the past, the GYV statement continued, Turkish governments involved in fraud or widely perceived by the general public as passive in the face of corruption lost credibility and the public trust. The statement added that both the judicial authorities and the media should stand strong in their defense of the corruption investigation.

Gülen is not linked to investigation

The statement also dismissed allegations that the Hizmet (Gülen) movement is behind the corruption investigation, calling the accusation “heinous slander.”

“[The claim] that our honorary chair Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement are ‘linked to the prosecutors' who are conducting the graft probe and that they made the prosecutors launch said investigations because they are the ‘cat's paws of external powers' is heinous slander,” the statement said.

The GYV also criticized pro-government media outlets for publishing distorted news stories about the GYV and Hizmet and rejected conspiracy theories such as those involving a “deep state” and “parallel structures” as well as accusations of "treason," "espionage" and "collaboration with international powers" against the interests of Turkey.

The GYV underlined, however, that the Hizmet movement is not hostile to the ruling AK Party.

Gov't has changed since 2011

“Mr. Gülen and the Hizmet movement do not nurture any hostility toward the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has provided numerous beneficial services to the country,” the statement said, stressing, however, that since the 2011 elections the AK Party and Erdoğan started to drift away from the path of reform and democracy.

The GYV listed stalled reforms in Turkey's EU bid; the AK Party's attempt to switch to a presidential system, which distorted checks and balances in government; press freedom woes; weakened transparency and accountability; meddling with the judiciary; and an increasing tendency toward authoritarian rule as concerning developments.

Rallies may be provoked

Calling the street rallies protesting the government's interference in the judiciary and its targeting of law enforcement officials assisting prosecutors in the corruption probe “understandable reactions” from the public, the GYV expressed its concern that the demonstrations are open to provocations.

“It is a democratic right to stage peaceful and non-violent street demonstrations without violating laws. However, we are seriously concerned that such street protests, albeit peaceful and fair, may result in an atmosphere of provocation, particularly given the fact that the government is currently giving the impression that it won't even tolerate the judiciary and makes tense and polarizing statements one after another,” it said.

The foundation said it was concerned that protests could drag the country deep into chaos if they were sabotaged. "There is the possibility that peaceful protests against corruption may be sabotaged, thereby changing the agenda, on which fraud is currently the top item, and this would lead to the reverse of what was originally intended," it said.

 “In this framework, as we did during the Gezi Park protests, we call on the government to rule the country in a wise and cool-headed manner and act with the awareness that it is the government of 76 million people, including those who engage in protests. Likewise, we invite protesters to stick to peaceful methods,” the statement added.

Call on gov't to show evidence

As for the accusations leveled against members of the Hizmet movement -- that they are trying to form a “parallel state,” “deep state,” “judiciary junta” or “autonomous structure,” alongside claims that they are “engaged in espionage” -- the GYV said these are simply part of a smear campaign against the Hizmet movement and suggest that the government wants to distract the public from the scandal.

Recalling an August statement in which the organization called on the government to submit whatever evidence of shady structures in the government it had to the judiciary, the GYV said the government chose to go ahead with the smear campaign instead of backing up its claims with proof.

The GYV called claims that the Hizmet movement wants to establish tutelage over the bureaucracy and become a partner in government nothing but nonsense and stressed that it is a democratic, civilian movement.

It stressed that citizens and civil society actors have the right to make criticisms and suggestions on any issue, adding to that this cannot be interpreted as interference in the government.

As for the allegations that Hizmet members have infiltrated state agencies, the GYV said it is natural to see people of all kinds, including Hizmet members, in the government. Those who sympathize with Hizmet should have every right, as full-fledged citizens in a democratic country, to rise to positions in the civil service on their own merit and achievements, the statement said.

Profiling unacceptable

The GYV said that whatever their personal views or lifestyle choices, it is utterly wrong to portray civil servants who legally obtained their positions as “taking over the state,” “infiltrating the state,” “establishing tutelage” and “creating a parallel government.” It said such accusations are reminiscent of the “Old Turkey's” way of thinking.  They GYV added that Mr. Gülen himself had been charged with similar accusations and was acquitted after an eight-year trial.

The statement also blasted a massive and unjustified profiling operation against citizens on the public payroll who gave no cause for suspicion and said the purges of civil servants who sympathize with the Hizmet movement based on these illegal profiling activities violate the Constitution and fundamental human rights.

As for the vision for a new Turkey, the GYV said both Hizmet and Mr. Gülen himself have repeatedly called for enhanced transparency, strong accountability, respect for the rule of law, improved human rights, a civil constitution and more EU reforms.

Full text of the GYV statement on recent allegations:

Anti-corruption efforts in any country around the world are one of the issues that are closely monitored by the public. Historically, those governments in Turkey which are involved in fraud or which were widely perceived by the general public as not combating corruption suffered a loss of public trust and credibility. It is essential that both the judicial authorities and the media approach to the recent corruption claims in the most effective way, as would be the case in any democratic country.

For the collective conscience and the general public to be convinced that justice is being served properly, everyone, particularly including the government and the related people and organizations, must respect the independent judiciary, which hands out its judgments in the name of the nation, as enshrined in the Constitution and the law. At this point, the people charged with corruption can only be acquitted by respecting the judicial process and ensuring that this process is completed without any interventions.

It is heinous slander to claim that the Hizmet movement is behind the ongoing investigations

That our honorary president, Fethullah Gülen, and the Hizmet movement are "linked to the prosecutors" conducting the graft probe or that they made the prosecutors launch the said investigations because they are the cat's paws of external powers is heinous slander.

Moreover, it is unfair for certain pro-government media outlets to publish distorted news stories about the meetings which our foundation transparently attends to promote Turkey or the activities of the Hizmet movement's volunteers or to formulate inconceivable conspiracy theories or make accusations of "treason," "espionage" or "collaboration with international powers" against the interests of our country.

This implies that the country may find itself in a predicament where anyone who conducts similar activities can easily be accused of spying.

The Hizmet movement is not and cannot be antagonistic to the AK Party

Mr. Gülen and the Hizmet movement do not nurture any hostilities against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has delivered numerous beneficial services to the country. The Hizmet movement has publicly lent support for every democratization move by the AK Party between 2002 and 2011. However, it is clear that Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party's management have started to exhibit a serious divergence from this course of action in their actions and inaction since the 2011 general elections.

The slowdown in Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union, the AK Party's proposal to introduce a presidential system as a way of distorting the system of checks and balances, the ever-shrinking sphere of press freedoms, the weakening of the parliamentary review, the Court of Accounts being rendered dysfunctional, the ever-increasing signs of the administration becoming more authoritarian and, lately, the meddling with the judiciary have raised profound concerns among fair-minded groups who support the AK Party about the future of the country.

It is unrealistic to suggest that the Hizmet movement started voicing these criticisms only after the government's plan to shut down prep schools was made public. It is a well-known fact that our foundation had made a number of public statements regarding press freedoms, the slowdown of reforms and the increasing authoritarianism in Turkey long before the prep schools debate broke out.

We are concerned that the street demonstrations may breed a suitable climate for provocations

The perception that the government is openly meddling with the judicial authorities who are conducting the graft investigation, the government's operation targeting law enforcement officials who assisted prosecutors in the investigations and the newly appointed law enforcement officials' refusal to obey prosecutors' instructions have rightly made many people express their sentiments.

It is a democratic right to stage peaceful and non-violent street demonstrations without violating the law. However, we are seriously concerned that such street protests, albeit peaceful and fair, may result in a provocative environment, particularly given the fact that the government is currently giving the impression of not tolerating even the judiciary and is making tense and polarizing statements one after another.

We are worried that such protests may drag the country deeper into chaos. There is the possibility that the peaceful protests against corruption may be sabotaged, thereby changing the agenda where fraud is currently the top item, and this will lead to a distortion of the initial intentions. In this framework, as we expressed during the Gezi Park protests, we call on the government to rule the country in a wise and cool-headed manner and act with the awareness that it is the government of 76 million people, including those who engage in protests. Likewise, we invite protesters to stick to peaceful methods.

A parallel state is unacceptable in a democratic country. If there really is such a parallel network, the government must produce evidence of it

On the other hand, unfounded and intangible claims, namely "the judicial junta," "parallel state," "autonomous structure," "spying" or "espionage," which the government and pro-government media outlets have started to parrot more loudly in the wake of the graft probe, give the impression that they are part of efforts to cover up the investigation.

In a statement we made in August, we made it clear that if the government has any concrete evidence regarding these claims, it must deliver it to the judicial authorities at once. It is, to put it mildly, unfair not to do so but to continue to depict the Hizmet movement, loved and appreciated by millions of people and aided by many volunteers, as a “cat's paw," an "agent of external powers" or as a "dirty gang which nurtures ulterior motives and which deserves to be destroyed" without unjustified accusations and ambiguous claims.

We agree with those who note that accusing the suspects in the graft probe in breach of the principle of the presumption of innocence is a violation of their personal rights. Breaching the same principle regarding the accusations hurled at the Hizmet movement, loved by many, and depicting it as a gang or illegal organization is equally unacceptable and unfair.

As we noted many times before, it is ludicrous to accuse the Hizmet movement, which is a civil society organization, of establishing tutelage over the government or sharing political power. It contravenes the very spirit, norms and values of democratic systems to market CSOs that voice their recommendations, criticisms, demands or self-defense as illegitimate organizations seeking to take over political power, telling them, "Do not meddle with politics," "Establish a political party [if you want to voice those criticisms]," "Wait for the elections," "Do not exert pressures on the national will with your headlines," etc.

No form of guardianship is acceptable

It is only natural that in a democratic country, some of the people who are affiliated with the Hizmet movement, by exercising their legal and legitimate rights associated with the status of citizenship, assumed bureaucratic positions based on merit. The law requires concrete evidence. It is not possible to state in good faith attempts to present such positions within the state apparatus in accordance with the laws in effect regardless of the worldview of the holders of those positions as “seizing the state,” “infiltration of the state,” “establishing guardianship” or “creating a parallel state.” Gülen, who was accused of similar charges in the period when military guardianship was the strongest, was prosecuted for eight years and, in the end, acquitted of all charges.

Undoubtedly, bureaucrats have to comply with the legitimate orders of their superiors who are elected agents; they take orders from these superiors alone. Of course, the administrative actions and preferences of the popularly elected figures should be respected. However, as evidenced by the documents and information published in media outlets that were not denied, the unconstitutional profiling of the people who are allegedly members of the Hizmet movement and their removal from their posts and positions based on illegal actions are undemocratic and against fundamental human rights and freedoms.

What kind of Turkey?

Our honorary chairman Fethullah Gülen, the Hizmet movement and our foundation have repeatedly expressed a demand for EU reforms, the establishment of a fully democratic Turkey, the establishment of the rule of law, the most advanced fundamental rights and freedoms, equality of all before the law, a civilian constitution and a transparent state that can be held accountable; in addition, they have extended efforts to make ensure that these goals are achieved.

It is obvious that it is illogical to conclude that those who constitute a parallel or autonomous structure which are embedded within the state or seek to seize control of the state apparatus would raise such demands and expectations. The greatest obstacle before the emergence of a parallel state or uncontrollable cliques which seize the state is a full democratic and transparent state according to EU standards governed by the supremacy and rule of law which are held accountable to Parliament, the judiciary, the Court of Accounts, the media and the general public.

The people will make the decision as to who is expending efforts to this end. 

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