Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed İrfan Fidan as a new judge to serve on the Constitutional Court. Fidan, known for his steadfast support for Erdoğan in politically charged, controversial cases and investigations during his time as a prosecutor, is expected in the future to head the highest court in the land. As a prosecutor he had once famously connected Turkey’s July 2016 military coup attempt to the Crusader invasion of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages while interrogating a suspected coup plotter.
When a Constitutional Court seat was recently vacated, it was everyone’s expectation that Erdoğan was going to appoint someone close to him. However, not many anticipated that it would be Fidan since Erdoğan had to navigate a rather unusual procedure to be able to get him seated.
On Nov. 27 Fidan was assigned to a post at the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay), which was supposed to nominate a candidate for the Constitutional Court on Dec. 1. The nomination meeting was postponed to Dec. 17 due to “coronavirus concerns.” Fidan started his Supreme Court of Appeals assignment on Dec. 11 and a few days later threw his hat into the ring for the Constitutional Court nomination. In an election held even before he had settled into his new office at the Supreme Court of Appeals, Fidan received the most votes and was appointed to the Constitutional Court by Erdoğan on Jan. 23.
After his extraordinarily fast ascent, Fidan now tips the court’s balance in Erdoğan’s favor. Of the 15 judges, eight are Erdoğan appointees, while seven were promoted by former President Abdullah Gül. This change in the top court’s composition was also facilitated by the arrest of two of its members following the abortive 2016 putsch as part of a wider purge of the members of the judiciary over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the Turkish government claims was responsible for the attempted coup. Their vacated seats were also filled by Erdoğan.
Fidan’s role in covering up corruption probes
What makes Fidan particularly special for Erdoğan is his job performance, especially since the beginning of 2014, when Erdoğan was hit by a corruption investigation involving billions of dollars that implicated four ministers as well as his son. In the face of this unprecedented challenge to Erdoğan’s rule, Fidan was tasked with taking over the investigation as a prosecutor. He later removed all the prosecutors and police officers who took part in the probe and released all the suspects in remand. He ultimately dropped the case.
Fidan figured prominently in almost all investigations that threatened Erdoğan. After being appointed as the chief İstanbul public prosecutor, he took charge of all such investigations and shut them down. Among these was a probe into the alleged links of many members of Erdoğan’s ruling party to a radical pro-Iranian group called Selam Tevhit. Fidan was also instrumental in thwarting an investigation into Turkish intelligence trucks that were intercepted while carrying weapons to neighboring Syria. He later launched several noteworthy criminal investigations targeting Erdoğan’s critics, including a terrorism-related investigation into businessman and human rights defender Osman Kavala; the probe of a group of academics who signed a petition calling for a peaceful settlement of the military conflict in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast; and an investigation on coup accusations directed against people who joined the nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013. His exploits made him a star for Erdoğan, who appointed him as the İstanbul chief public prosecutor.
Crusade-related question in the interrogation of soldiers
As chief prosecutor, Fidan conducted investigations that led to the mass arrest of thousands of Gülen-linked individuals, including Erdal Tuna, a high-ranking gendarmerie officer in Ankara to whom Fidan asked an unusual question during his interrogation.
“How do you explain the fact that the date July 15, during which a group of terrorists with military uniforms from the TSK [Turkish Armed Forces] attempted an invasion, corresponds to July 15, 1099 when the first army of Crusaders invaded Jerusalem?”
Fidan, who linked Turkey’s failed coup to a Crusade that took place some 900 years ago, is now a Constitutional Court judge. Under his watch as prosecutor, the İstanbul courts saw several extraordinary indictments, such as that of jailed anti-Erdoğan journalist and author Ahmet Altan, who was accused of instigating the coup attempt through “subliminal messages” in the media.
Case files pending before the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court has on its docket many applications filed after the failed coup, with thousands of complaints alleging arbitrary detention, torture and other human rights violations pending judgment.
With Fidan’s arrival, Erdoğan appointees gained the majority in the court, which will render decisions on these cases.
A few months ago Fidan was involved in a domestic violence allegation brought up by journalist Ahmet Şık. According to the report Fidan had been physically violent with his wife. Fidan’s wife then wanted to file complaints against her husband with the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, not only about the alleged domestic violence but also about alleged bribery and extortion in connection with critical cases. However, no prosecutor in İstanbul wanted to put Fidan’s wife’s allegations on the record. After Şık’s report, Fidan spoke to a newspaper, dismissing the claims as untrue and fabricated in order to prevent his appointment to the Constitutional Court.