Human rights commissioner calls on Turkey to restore judicial independence

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Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. AFP PHOTOS

Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic on Wednesday submitted a report on her visit to Turkey in July 2019 in which she urged the Turkish authorities to restore judicial independence and to stop the practice of targeting human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.

“The Commissioner considers that the measures that the authorities took in the aftermath of the state of emergency had devastating consequences on judicial independence and impartiality and threaten the rule of law and human rights in Turkey,” the CoE said in a written statement.

“The Commissioner is alarmed by the fact that the Turkish judiciary displays, especially in terrorism-related cases, unprecedented levels of disregard for even the most basic principles of law, such as presumption of innocence, no punishment without crime and non-retroactivity of offences, or not being judged for the same facts again.”

The 43-page report included topics related to a variety of subjects including the independence of the judiciary, the intimidation and repression of civil society and human rights defenders and the situation of lawyers.

The commissioner pointed out that the disbarment of almost one-third of the judges and prosecutors worsened the already worrying situation in terms of judicial independence.

“During her visit, the Commissioner’s interlocutors referred to many examples of judges being arbitrarily moved after delivering controversial judgments upholding the human rights of accused persons, of judges with known biases being appointed to ongoing politically sensitive cases, or of such cases being allocated to courts more likely to deliver a certain kind of judgment, which lend further credibility to allegations of partiality of the judiciary, and the HSK [Board of Judges and Prosecutors] in particular, to political interests.”

“Another concern often expressed by the Commissioner’s interlocutors were smear campaigns in pro-government media, which many perceive to be a strong influence on the attitude of prosecutors and the outcome of legal proceedings,” the report said, citing cases where confidential information from case files appeared to be deliberately leaked to such media, even where the accused have no access to their file themselves.

The commissioner also mentioned the Turkish government’s “Judicial Reform Strategy,” welcoming the package while noting that the “measures taken so far do not correspond to current and future needs, which require a more comprehensive and resolute response.”

The CoE also published the Turkish government’s observations on Mijatovic’s report, in which the commissioner was criticized for “overlooking the positive developments in the judiciary” and “depicting all the positive progress achieved during the judicial reform process as if they had no impact in practice at all.”

In 2019 the Ankara Bar Association released two separate reports of systematic torture aimed at extracting confessions from former civil servants in police custody.

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