İsmail Rüştü Cirit, head of the top appeals court in Turkey, has said it is the independent Turkish courts alone that will make a decision in the case of American pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention has strained relations between Turkey and the United States.
Cirit, the president of the country’s Supreme Court of Appeals, talked about Brunson’s case in a speech delivered Monday during the inauguration of the new judicial year in Ankara.
After he was kept in pre-trial detention in an İzmir prison for almost two years on terrorism and espionage charges, Brunson was moved to house arrest in July despite expectations of the US administration for his release.
“The one and absolute power that will make the decisions regarding the arrest and the trial of a foreign national in İzmir is the independent and impartial Turkish courts that exercise judicial power on behalf of the Turkish nation,” said Cirit.
The relations between Turkey and the US became even more strained following a local court’s decision to put Brunson under house arrest. US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey if Brunson were not freed.
Cirit called on foreign countries, which he said claim to uphold values and ideals such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law, to respect the sovereignty of Turkey. He said a failure to do this through the use of force will result in the weakening of the human rights.
Cirit’s remarks about the independence of the Turkish courts came at a time when there is widespread suspicion about the independence of Turkish judges and prosecutors.
Turkey’s judiciary is being severely criticized for acting on orders from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and not basing their rulings on the law. Judges in Turkey who make decisions that anger Erdoğan are either replaced or jailed.
Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The arrests are seen as politically motivated and aimed at eliminating Erdoğan’s critics.
In May 2016, Cirit was among members of the high judiciary who harvested tea leaves along with President Erdoğan during a visit to Rize province.
Members of the high judiciary whose photos appeared in the Turkish media picking tea leaves together with Erdoğan attracted widespread criticism for casting a shadow over their independence.