Turkish gov’t accuses top court member of hinting at coup d‘état

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Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik on Wednesday slammed a Constitutional Court (AYM) member for a tweet showing the court building’s lights on at night, accusing him of alluding to an old practice of the country’s top military brass conveying their dissatisfaction with elected officials.

Çelik accused Judge Engin Yıldırım of using “junta speak.”

“No one can threaten our democracy,” Çelik said.

Yıldırım’s tweet came following a ruling by a court of first instance that defied a top court verdict which ordered the retrial of Enis Berberoğlu, a former deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who was sentenced to five years, 10 months on terror charges for providing a journalist with classified documents in 2015.

“Lights are on,” Yıldırım tweeted on Tuesday night, along with a picture of the brightly lit AYM premises.

The Interior Ministry promptly responded by tweeting a photo of ministry headquarters with its lights on, saying, “Our lights are never off.”

After facing backlash from government officials, Yıldırım tweeted, “What I was alluding to were the lights of the rule of law. I never hinted at anything else,” adding that his tweet was misinterpreted, which “profoundly saddened” him. Yıldırım subsequently switched his account to protected mode, preventing non-followers from accessing his tweets.

“Those who yearn for a tutelage regime lose the mandate to speak on behalf of the law. The people turn the lights on and [they alone] turn them off,” Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül tweeted on Wednesday.

Turkey has a history of military interventions, with four putsches and one failed coup in the last 60 years of the almost century-old republic.

Pro-government pundits criticized Yıldırım’s tweet, with columnist Yusuf Kaplan from the Yeni Şafak daily claiming that “an oligarchy of jurists” was responsible for architecting the coups in the country’s history.

Kerem Altıparmak, a legal professional and a former academic, defended Yıldırım, saying he made a risky decision to defend freedom and the rule of law “since the former can’t be defended without the latter.”

Yıldırım was appointed by former President Abdullah Gül, who recently had a falling out with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after he implied he might make a return to politics.

The top court currently comprises 16 members, six of whom were appointed by Erdoğan, six by Gül, one member appointed by Gül’s predecessor Ahmet Necdet Sezer and three appointed by parliament.

On Oct. 1, Erdoğan announced his support for the overhaul of Turkey’s highest court, a proposal put forward by his nationalist party leader ally.

Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had on Sept. 30 called for a restructuring of the AYM in line with the executive presidency that was introduced in the country in 2018 thanks to backing from his MHP.

“The AYM must be restructured in compliance with the new presidential system,” Bahçeli had said, adding that he was expecting the issue would be discussed during parliament’s new legislative year.

Speaking to reporters after addressing lawmakers at the opening ceremony of the new session in parliament, Erdoğan responded to his ally Bahçeli, saying he would “gladly approve” such a proposal as soon as a step is taken by parliament towards that end.

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