Critics say the abolition of these courts before the finalization of ongoing coup and terror cases would mean “alarm bells” for the Turkish democracy, as the fight against coup-aspiring circles and other criminal networks may come to a halt. Retired public prosecutor Mete Göktürk said the government should avoid making any legal changes that would bring about a “reversal” in the judiciary. In his view, the abolition of special courts will impact ongoing coup and terror cases, which means Turkey could lose all the gains it has made so far in the anti-coup fight.
The government plans to make a revision to Article 250 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), which gives special authority to courts and prosecutors to investigate organized crime and coup plots, before Parliament adjourns for summer recess on July 1, abolishing special courts and divesting special prosecutors of their powers. Jurists say such a step may lead to the release of hundreds of gang members, drug traffickers and terror suspects, and warn that significant changes to special courts' powers, or abolishing them altogether, may cause a reversal of democratic progress. The plan has prompted public outrage against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
According to Göktürk, Turkey has been able to bring coup plotters and terror suspects to justice thanks to special powers vested in special courts and prosecutors. However, he said, the cases against coup plotters and terror suspects will be impeded if special courts are abolished. “I hope such an abolition will not happen. Otherwise, Turkey will lose all gains [in its anti-terror and coup fight],” he noted.
Specially authorized courts, established in 2004 in line with the EU reform process, have been credited with dismantling gangs and organized crime in Turkey and pursuing coup-plotting senior generals for the first time in the republic's history, which has seen four military coups and numerous coup attempts.
Chairman of the Voice of the People Party (HAS Party) Numan Kurtulmuş stated that special courts may be abolished only when Turkey has become a “real democracy.” “Still there is a risk of a coup in Turkey. … Turkey should clean up its coup-filled past. We do not have a problem with certain people, but young people aged 18 and 19 were tortured [after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup]. Will they [the government] not call those responsible for it to account?” he asked, openly stating that Turkey will not be able to proceed with coup investigations and cases if special courts are abolished.
Mustafa Kamalak, chairman of the Felicity Party (SP), agreed, adding, “Turkey is going through extraordinary times, and needs special courts and prosecutors for some more time.” He continued: “Turkey absolutely needs special courts under the existing conditions. Should Turkey confront coups and their actors or not? It should, for sure. If Turkey was going through ordinary times, it would not need courts vested with extraordinary powers. But this is not the case for us.”
According to rumors, the government plans to replace special courts with “terrorism courts,” which will hear ongoing terrorism and coup-related cases. However, jurists say new judges to be assigned to the cases will have to examine the case files from the beginning, and this would prolong the cases. In an interview in early June, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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, according to Fikret Duran, president of the Boğaziçi Lawyers' Association: “It is not correct that a revision to the CMK will not impact the ongoing cases. A change [in the code] will directly impact the Ergenekon, Balyoz, Feb. 28 and Sept. 12 cases, and the cases will begin from scratch.” Nearly 800 suspects are currently incarcerated as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, the Balyoz coup plot, the investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and other trials.
Ahmet Gündel, retired prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said the timing of the government plan regarding special courts and prosecutors is thought-provoking, coming shortly after a number of voice recordings disseminated over the Internet suggested that Parliament will pass a bill to set suspects in the Ergenekon and coup cases free.
The expectations of some coup and terrorism suspects of being released from prison were made clear in two voice recordings 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 that the suspects would start a civil war to retaliate against the government for their arrest.
Report: Army chief asked for abolition of special courts
The Taraf daily published a report on Thursday claiming that Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel asked the government to pass a bill to release members of the military who are currently under arrest as suspects in the Balyoz coup case from prison during a visit he paid to Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin last week.
A similar request came from retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök, former chief of General Staff, who met with Prime Minister Erdoğan last week, according to Taraf. The requests from military superiors spurred the AK Party government to speed up efforts to pass a law for the abolition of special courts. Government authorities say work is ongoing to insert an article for the revision to the CMK in the third judicial reform package.
According to Taraf, both Özel and Özkök asked the government to make it an obligation for prosecutors to obtain permission from the General Staff to investigate members of the military.