The head of the panel of judges hearing a trial concerning involvement in a failed 2016 coup in Turkey had a phone call with an aide of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before the start of the proceedings, according to journalist Müyesser Yıldız.
Yıldız made the claim in a column on the odatv news website on Sunday based on an exchange between the two other judges in the courtroom at Ankara’s Sincan Prison on Oct. 20 that was heard by the audience in the courtroom as well as others attending the hearing through the IT Voice and Image System (SEGBİS) because their microphones were switched on.
While the two other judges, the defendants and the audience were waiting for the presiding judge to enter the courtroom, one of the judges asked the other where the head judge was. In response, the second judge said, “The head judge is talking to a presidential aide [on the phone].”
The defendants as well as the audience, shocked by the revelation, immediately demanded the recusal of the presiding judge, claiming that he was receiving orders from the president before the hearing.
The trial, however, continued as planned.
Claims of government control of the judiciary reached new heights following the failed coup, after which the government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
One of the defendants later wrote a petition to the court asking for replacement of presiding judge on the grounds that he was no longer an independent member of the judiciary.
According to the petition, revealed by Yıldız, the defendant spoke about the exchange between the two judges before the hearing on Oct. 20 and said the head judge talking to a presidential aide about an ongoing trial shows that the judge violated the 138th article of the Turkish Constitution, which states that judges must be independent.
The presiding judge was not replaced.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Nov. 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the movement.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.