17 April 2014, Thursday
Today's Zaman

Special courts clear tough hurdles blocking Turkish democracy

19 February 2012, Sunday /SALİH SARIKAYA / SERKAN SAĞLAM
The investigations launched over the past several years into shadowy incidents, unsolved murders, coups and coup plans in Turkey’s recent history has shown how specially authorized courts established in line with Article 250 and 251 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) have been instrumental in clearing major obstacles for Turkish democracy, giving the chance for the first time to the country to bring its “untouchables” before the judiciary.

Last week, Turkey saw proposals for the abolishment of these courts, raising concerns that in the event of such a move, there will be no progress in ongoing judicial proceedings where the suspects are accused of having plotted to stage a coup or of involvement in terrorist activities, which in turn could hinder the country’s democratization process and security.

Opposition parties made the proposals for the abolishment of these courts following a move by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to provide a legal shield to intelligence officials. The AK Party took such action after a specially authorized prosecutor summoned National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and four others to testify in the ongoing investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), which Turkish prosecutors say is a group that controls the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other affiliated groups.

The government proposed a bill in Parliament last week to stipulate that permission must be obtained from the prime minister ahead of investigations into intelligence officials. Claiming that adoption of such a bill would violate the principle of equality before the law, opposition parties called for the abolishment of specially authorized courts.

“Let’s abolish specially authorized courts. Let’s put an end to this scandal. Let’s trust the judges, let them be independent and free,” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said last week, while BDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş noted, “The most effective and democratic way to resolve this crisis [over MİT officials] is the abolishment of specially authorized courts.”

Specially authorized courts and prosecutors who derive their authority from Article 250 and 251 of the CMK do not hear or investigate ordinary cases. The special authority given by Article 250 and 251 of the CMK to prosecutors allows them to investigate terrorist groups and crimes organized against the constitutional order. The article also vests civilian prosecutors with the power to investigate military personnel accused of crimes threatening national security, constitutional violations and attempts to topple the government in peacetime.

Since the adoption of Article 250 and 251 on June 1, 2005, Turkey has made significant progress in its democracy as the courts established under these articles have made it possible for prosecutors to investigate nine separate coup attempts and confront gangs and unsolved murders over the past seven years. In addition, thanks to the authority granted by these articles to prosecutors, some assassination and coup plans were foiled.

One of the major cases launched thanks to specially authorized prosecutors is the Ergenekon case, which began in 2007 when police discovered a house in the Ümraniye district of Istanbul being used as an arms depot. The case is seen as a milestone for Turkish democracy as Turkey has for the first time been able to confront shadowy structures nested within the state.

The Ergenekon trial began in 2008. The indictment claims that the Ergenekon network is behind a series of political assassinations carried out over the past two decades for the ultimate purpose of triggering a military coup and taking over the government. The victims include secularist journalist Uğur Mumcu, long believed to have been assassinated by Islamic extremists in 1993; the head of a business conglomerate, Özdemir Sabancı, who was shot dead by militants of the extreme-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) in his high-security office in 1996; and secularist academic Necip Hablemitoğlu, who was also believed to have been killed by Islamic extremists in 2002.

Suspects face various charges, including “membership in an armed terrorist group,” “attempting to destroy the government,” “inciting people to rebel against the Republic of Turkey” and other similar crimes.

A court accepted the second Ergenekon indictment in March 2009. The second Ergenekon trial was merged with the third indictment prepared as part of the case in August 2009. The trials are being heard by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court in Silivri.

In the three Ergenekon cases 196 suspects, including figures from the media, military, academia and the business world, are standing trial.

Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism

Another case launched thanks to specially authorized prosecutors is the case into the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism, a suspected military plot to discredit the governing AK Party and the faith-based Gülen movement.

The action plan, which was exposed by the Taraf daily in 2009, details a military plan to destroy the image of the ruling AK Party and the Gülen movement in the eyes of the public, play down the Ergenekon investigation and garner support for members of the military arrested as part of the investigation into Ergenekon.

Police found a copy of the action plan during a raid on the home of lawyer and Ergenekon suspect Serdar Öztürk’s in June 2009 as part of the Ergenekon investigation.

There is also an ongoing trial into anti-government websites which were allegedly established by the military to undermine the AK Party government. The investigation of the websites began in 2010 based on evidence found at the home of Col. Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, a suspect in the second Ergenekon trial. Later, an anonymous tipster sent an email to inform the public and prosecutors that the General Staff had established 42 websites for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda about the government and religious communities. The prosecutor demands life without parole for the 22 suspects, who include retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız and Gen. Hüseyin Nusret Taşdeler, commander of the Aegean Army Corps. Former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ also faces charges in the same probe and is currently under arrest. An İstanbul court accepted a separate indictment prepared against Başbuğ on Wednesday.

Turkey has seen retired generals jailed in coup cases over the past few years, but Gen. Başbuğ, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer to be involved in legal proceedings thus far. Başbuğ is jailed at Silivri Prison, where most of the coup suspects have been sent.

The investigation of the Sledgehammer coup probe also became possible thanks to specially authorized prosecutors who derive their authority from Article 250 and 251. The investigation into Sledgehammer was launched in 2010. There are 196 suspects standing trial.

Sledgehammer is a suspected coup plot allegedly devised in 2003 to unseat the AK Party government through violent acts. According to the Sledgehammer plan, the military was to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, including planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyazıt mosques in İstanbul. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government to lay the groundwork for a coup d’état. The military, which has overthrown three governments since 1960 and pressured a conservative government to step down in 1997, has denied there was any such plan.

Specially authorized prosecutors are also conducting a probe into unsolved murders that took place in the country’s East and Southeast as state-sponsored murders and mostly committed in the 1990s by an illegal group inside the gendarmerie known as JİTEM. The investigation began in 2009.

One of the most critical cases being investigated by specially authorized prosecutors is the probe into the bloody Sept. 12, 1980, military coup.

This investigation was launched in response to criminal complaints filed against the perpetrators of the Sept. 12, 1980, coup submitted to several prosecutors in various places in Turkey following the abolishment of Article 15 of the Constitution in a referendum in 2010. Article 15 had given immunity to the leaders of the coup. The indictment in the case seeks life imprisonment for the leaders of the 1980 military coup, Gen. Kenan Evren and Gen. Tahsin Şahinkaya. This is the first time that the coup perpetrators are being prosecuted in Turkey.

Earlier this month, the Ankara Specially Authorized Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into a highly controversial military memorandum issued April 27, 2007, against the AK Party government.

Published online at www.tsk.tr close to midnight, the April 27 statement is more commonly referred to as the “e-memorandum” because it was an attempt by the Turkish military to openly interfere in politics. The launch of an investigation into this anti-democratic move has pleased pro-democracy circles in the country.

The prosecutor overseeing the probe is Specially Authorized Prosecutor Kemal Çetin, who is also conducting an ongoing investigation into the Sept. 12, 1980, coup d’état.

According to former public prosecutor Ahmet Gündel, abolishment of specially authorized courts will impede the ongoing trials, which are of critical importance for Turkish democracy, for the reasons mentioned above.

He said if regular courts hear these cases, it would take longer to conclude these trials because they deal with thousands of other cases. Thus, Gündel said there is the risk of reaching the statute of limitations in all of these cases.

“So, it is of crucial importance that major cases -- mainly terrorism cases -- are heard by specially authorized courts that are experts on these cases. The damage to Turkey by the crimes being heard by specially authorized courts is significant, and these cases are very broad and complicated; thus, Turkey has come to the point of hearing these cases in separate courts. If cases like Ergenekon and Sledgehammer can be heard today, it is thanks to specially authorized courts and prosecutors,” he explained.

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