Parliament abolishes special courts despite criticisms

Mounting criticism from Turkey’s legal authority and politicians has forced »»

Mounting criticism from Turkey’s legal authority and politicians has forced the government to partially backpedal on a law that abolished the country’s specially authorized courts.

The courts have been abolished and replaced with “regional high criminal courts” but will continue to deal with all ongoing coup and terror cases until a final verdict is reached.

Parliament passed several amendments to the Turkish Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) after heated debates among deputies in the early hours of Monday morning. In addition to the abolishment of specially authorized courts, prosecutors are now obligated to seek permission from relevant authorities to investigate officers from top state institutions.

According to the changes to the CMK, special courts will continue to oversee existing coup and terror cases until a final verdict is reached, but judges dealing with these cases will not be assigned to the new regional high criminal courts. The judges hearing the historic coup and terror cases will also not be allowed to rule on the cases. Some of the cases currently being heard by special courts include that of Ergenekon -- a clandestine criminal network accused of plotting to overthrow the government; Balyoz (Sledgehammer) -- a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the government through violent acts; and that of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that includes the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other related organizations. A number of ongoing probes into coup and terror plots will be forwarded to the new regional high criminal courts.

Among these investigations is the probe into the Feb. 28, 1997, military intervention. The government’s plans for special courts previously sparked a public outcry, with Turkey’s legal community speaking out against the plans. The timing of the plans raises questions as they 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.

June 30, Saturday

Twenty-six active-duty military officers were detained following police raids across 15 provinces as part of a widening probe against a military espionage gang. As part of an operation conducted by the İzmir Police Department’s Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit, simultaneous operations were launched in 15 provinces, with police officers detaining 26 suspects following searches of military facilities and the suspects’ homes.

Leyla Zana, an independent pro-Kurdish deputy from Diyarbakır who met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday, said the Oslo negotiations should continue so that they can find a viable solution to the decades-old Kurdish issue. She told Erdoğan that all sides of the Kurdish issue should participate in a solution. “We have seen that security-oriented mentality and policies have not yielded any viable results so far. The only thing that never was tested is keeping negotiations alive. The Oslo talks [between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)] mark a milestone in the Kurdish question; therefore, I told him [Erdoğan] that negotiations should start again,” Zana said. An atmosphere of trust must be established to keep channels of dialogue open, she added.

July 1, Sunday

The Turkish government is under harsh criticism from opposition parties regarding Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the terrorist PKK. In particular, opposition parties put Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin on the firing line in Parliament, claiming that Öcalan may have been taken out of the prison on İmralı Island where he is supposed to be kept and instead may have been staying in another location in recent months.

A report by the investigative body of Turkey’s presidential palace found that former President Turgut Özal, who according to official records died in 1993 of a heart attack, was taken to a hospital by a 1970 model, ill-equipped ambulance. The State Audit Institution (DDK), part of the President’s Office, released a report on Özal’s death last month announcing its findings regarding allegations that Özal might have been poisoned. The DDK found the death of then-President Özal to be “suspicious,” calling on prosecutors to investigate the case.

July 2, Monday

Thirty suspects, including active-duty military officers, were detained following police raids across Turkey as part of a widening probe against a military espionage gang.

Fenerbahçe’s chairman and three other jailed suspects were released after the chief judge of the specially authorized 16th İstanbul High Criminal Court, Mehmet Ekinci, delivered the verdict in a year-long match-fixing case. The court stated that Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım has been sentenced to six years, three months for creating and managing a criminal organization and for rigging several football matches.

Victims of the Madımak massacre, in which 37 people -- most of whom were visiting the city for an Alevi festival -- died after an angry mob set the Madımak Hotel on fire, were commemorated through a variety of events across the country on its 19th anniversary.

The US has said it condemns “leaks of any kind,” referring to a Wall Street Journal report over the weekend that cited Pentagon officials who backed Syrian claims over a downed Turkish jet. “You know how strongly we support our Turkish ally, and we condemn leaks of any kind,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing when asked about the report, which cited US officials and claimed that the Turkish jet shot down by Syrian forces on June 22 was downed in Syrian airspace and not in international airspace, as the Turkish government maintains. Turkey strongly denied the WSJ report in a statement released by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on Sunday. Turkey maintains the warplane was hit in international airspace by Syria without warning in a “hostile act.”

July 3, Tuesday

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play no part in a transitional government, but suggested that the Syrian opposition would do well to accept envoy Kofi Annan’s internationally endorsed proposal. “Our task is not to pressure the opposition or to convince them of something,” Davutoğlu told Sky News Arabia in Cairo, where Syrian opposition groups are meeting for the second day. He added that Annan’s role as mediator means the opposition will not have to negotiate with Assad under the transition plan. “Thus, I believe that accepting the Geneva statement would be a positive thing for the opposition,” he said.

Journalist Fehmi Koru said during a hearing in the Ergenekon trial, he received documents in 2001 that he later found to be related to the formation of a gang known as Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network with alleged links to the state and suspected of plotting to topple the government. The veteran journalist said he did not shelve documents posted to him in 2001 but handed them to the prosecutor’s office that was spearheading the Ergenekon investigation. Koru noted that the documents were photocopies and did not mean much to him at the time, adding that the name of the writer was blacked out in the text.

Thirty people, including active duty military officers, were taken into custody on Monday, followed by a further 24, as part of an operation launched simultaneously in a number of provinces against a military espionage gang. The operation was coordinated by the İzmir Police Department’s Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit. The suspects are accused of involvement in the gang as well as prostitution, blackmail and espionage.

A letter written by Abdullah Öcalan to the Ministry of Justice has come as an explanation for his extended silence, saying he would no longer speak through his lawyers as they distort his remarks and accusing the PKK and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of deceiving him.

July 4, Wednesday

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said judges in the trials of the nine deputies currently held in prison on coup and terrorism charges have the last word on the possible release of the deputies from prison. Speaking to reporters about the new judicial reform package, Bozdağ said Parliament has adopted limitations on long detention periods for suspects whose cases have not been finalized, and judges dealing with the jailed deputies’ cases are free to rule to release the deputies pending trial. “This is an issue completely left to the decision of the judges,” the deputy prime minister stated.

Yasin Hayal, one of the main instigators of the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, said the masterminds behind the murder were planning to kill Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk after Dink. Dink was shot dead outside the offices of the Agos newspaper in İstanbul in January 2007. Police arrested the gunman, Ogün Samast, and his accomplice, Hayal. When he was detained and appeared in court in 2007, Hayal asserted, “Orhan Pamuk should be careful.” Hayal elaborated on these statements five years later from his prison cell in Tekirdağ. He said Erhan Tuncel, who worked as an informant for the Trabzon Police Department and was arrested after the murder of Dink but subsequently released, told him: “Hrant Dink and Orhan Pamuk are dangerous to this nation. They should be killed. But Dink has priority.”

The younger brother of Abdullah Öcalan lent support to the latest statements of Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana, who says she believes Prime Minister Erdoğan can solve Turkey’s Kurdish problem.

President Abdullah Gül approved a controversial third judicial reform package, sending the law to the Prime Ministry for publication in the Official Gazette.

July 5, Thursday

Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet Görmez voiced his support for reopening the Greek Orthodox Halki (Heybeliada) Seminary that has been closed since 1971, saying that it is a fundamental right of non-Muslims living in Turkey to raise their own theologians.

Two opinion polls carried out separately by a research company suggests that Turks are strongly opposed to a possible military intervention in Syria by Turkey or the international community. The results of the polls were published in the Star daily. According to a survey of over 2,100 people conducted by the Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE) in 14 Turkish provinces, 59.9 percent of respondents said Turkey should not participate in a possible military operation in Syria by the international community. Nearly 28 percent, however, said Turkey should participate in such an operation, while around 12 percent declined to comment, saying they had no idea. The same poll also found that 33.1 percent of respondents support Turkey’s foreign policy concerning Syria, while 48.8 percent found the policy wrong.

The release of deputies who are currently in prison is a possibility, thanks to a newly approved reform package, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek said. Courts can use modern surveillance systems according to the newly passed judicial reform package, said Çiçek, who offered a recap of the work Parliament completed in its 24th term. He recalled that the legislative year started with the so-called “oath crisis,” when some opposition parties refused to join in the swearing-in ceremony for deputies because some of their deputies were in prison, which they claimed was against the law.

Rakel Dink, the widow of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, writer Bejan Matur and artist Zeynep Tanbay paid a visit to the Uludere district of Şırnak to share the pain of the families who lost their sons in aerial strikes conducted by the TSK last year. Dink, whose husband was killed in an ultranationalist attack in 2007, Matur and Tanbay spent Thursday night with the families of the Uludere victims.

July 6, Friday

The two pilots of a reconnaissance jet downed by Syria last month were buried one day after their bodies were finally retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea, ending a week-long search.

 Foreign Minister Davutoğlu called for greater pressure on Russia and China to push them to stop supporting the Assad regime, as the minister joined a gathering of Western and Arab nations in Paris supporting the Syrian opposition. Davutoğlu, addressing the meeting of about 100 delegations from countries around the world and international organizations, also insisted that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy and that it should be replaced with a transitional government.

The Constitutional Court annulled an investigation that was launched against a politician over a multilingual signboard, in a decision that is believed to save Kurdish politicians from being prosecuted due to the use of Kurdish in signs, posters and statements as part of political party activities. The ruling concerns the case of Yakup Almaç, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) branch head in Van’s Özalp district, who faced legal action when he held a signboard with statements in Kurdish and Turkish after a speech last year in the BDP district branch building.


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