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[OPINION] Ask Spano about Turkey’s persecuted judges

Robert Spano, new president of the European Court of Human Rights gave an online interview to Mikael Rask Madsen. The interview is followed by a series of questions sent by online audience. It was not a surprise that the majority of questions came from the Turkish audience as the Strasbourg Court has been heavily criticized for its controversial rulings which disappointed tens of thousands of Turkish citizens against the post-failed coup persecutions of the government. Judge Spano has extensively talked about his vision on the Court’s mission and future as well as the dire situations of the Turkish judges from the ECtHR’s point of view. Nobody expected from him to accept the ECtHR’s responsibility for these dire situations emanating from the Court’s Catal decision which enabled the government to further escalate the oppression on the judiciary. And he didn’t. Neither did he accept the Strasbourg Court is wrong in its Bas decision for rejecting the non-independence and ineffectiveness of the Criminal Peace Courts despite Venice Commisison’s opinion and other reports published by judicial watchers. Spano reminded that the ECtHR has ruled that the arrest of Alpaslan Altan, the former member of the constitutional Court, lacked legal basis. However, he didn’t mention that Altan is still in jail because he was no longer in the pretrial detention at the time the Court reviewed his case. Like thousands of others, Altan waited a long time for ECtHR’s ruling regarding his arbitrary detention. Unfortunately, ECtHR’s decision came shortly after Altan was convicted which made the decision of the Strasbourg Court null and void. He also failed to explain on what basis ECtHR ruled that there is an effective domestic body that over a hundred thousand of dismissed public servants can apply whereas the SoE Inquiry Commission was not even formed and proved that it was effective and independent which later on it was proven otherwise. He reiterated the Court’s current official view that the Turkish Constitutional Court is an effective domestic remedy without questioning whether this reflects the reality or is just the consequence of the CoE’s negotiation with Turkish government within the scope of appeasement policy. Otherwise he would have certainly addressed the concerns of many experts including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights regarding Turkish Constitutional Court’s impartiality and effectiveness. Overall, he only said that he is aware of the criticisms and he appreciates them. Hopefully, ECtHR will address the massive injustices in Turkey more effectively in his term.

The independence of the Turkish judiciary has fallen sharply since 2013, the year of Gezi protests and the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history. A very well-known fact is that the Turkish judiciary has never been independent of the various power groups, including the army, government parties and non-state actors. However, it has never been as ineffective and controlled by a power centre as it is now.

The failed coup attempt of July 2016 gave the government a blank check to remove all officials considered to be opponents from the state. The very first profession targeted by the government in the immediate aftermath of the heinous coup d’état was the judiciary. Even before the soldiers, thousands of judges were fired and arrest warrants issued against them on the night of the coup attempt. The list of judges to be fired was clearly drawn up by the government long before the coup attempt. Otherwise, it would be impossible for the Council of Judges to collect and draw up the list of opponents within a few hours. This type of work requires months, if not years.

By firing and arresting many judges, the government has ensured that the subsequent purge of more than 100,000 civil servants and hundreds of thousands of prosecutions against civilians, along with seizure of assets worth $ 35 billion, will be carried out without prevention. Therefore, the judges became the prime target of the government’s witch-hunt, even before the soldiers who should have been considered the main perpetrators of the coup.

Other than the absurdities seen during the coup attempt, no thorough investigation was conducted to shed light on what had really happened that bloody night. The parliamentary committee that had been formed for this could not hear the most prominent state officials, including the army chief and the chief of intelligence. The committee was forced by President Erdogan to hastily conclude its mission and its final report was not to be published. The government did not want the opposition’s questions about the contradictions in the government’s story to be revealed.

After the purge of nearly 5,000 judges, Turkey has turned into a country where the rule of law has disappeared and everyone’s most fundamental rights have lost their value. Meanwhile, several judges, including a former member of the Board of Judges, have died in prison. Many of them have lost their income and their possessions and passports have been confiscated. Those able to find a way out fled the country seeking asylum in Europe and the US. Those who could not, try to survive in Turkey, where they are not allowed to work in another government job or even become a lawyer. You can see Turkish judges on Twitter or Facebook telling their stories of what they need to do to make a living for themselves and their families. Among them are street vendors, construction workers and conscierges.

Who replaced those judges who were brutally prosecuted by Turkey’s most corrupt government? Many of the new judges have been recruited from those selected in some way by the local branches of the ruling party and from members associated with its nationalist ally. This is the crime of which the ECtHR has become a part, committed against Turkish judges along with hundreds of thousands of others by enabling the Turkish government to destroy the rule of law. Perhaps Judge Spano should sit with Turkish rights defenders and explain before them the position of the ECtHR.

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