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Int’l rights groups, jurists call on Turkey’s chief justice to uphold ECtHR rulings

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A coalition of international human rights organizations and legal professionals have called on Turkey’s Chief Justice Zühtü Arslan in a joint letter to ensure that the top court acts in line with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), expressing their concerns about the Turkish judiciary’s adherence to the rulings of the Strasbourg-based court.

Among the co-signatories of the letter are the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, the Italian Federation for Human Rights, The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, Javier Cremades, lawyer and president of the World Jurist Association, Dr Emre Turkut, a postdoctoral researcher and legal expert, Dominique Attias, a lawyer and former president of the Federation des Barreaux d’Europe and former vice president of the Paris Bar.

The rights groups and legal professionals criticized the top court’s failure to comply with ECtHR rulings that faulted Turkey due to the pretrial detention of judges Hakan Baş and Alparslan Altan in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, and in the application of Yıldırım Turan, another judge who was also put in pretrial detention following the coup attempt.

The Constitutional Court in June 2020 dismissed Turan’s application in which he claimed he was subjected to rights violations due to his pretrial detention following the coup attempt. The top court made its decision disregarding the ECtHR judgement on former judge Baş in March 2020 and the ECtHR ruling on former judge Altan in 2019.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny. Hundreds of judges, prosecutors and lawyers were also arrested on bogus terrorism or coup charges.

The signatories of the letter said they fully acknowledge and empathize with the challenges Turkey faced following the 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent state of emergency. However, they said as it has been five years since the state of emergency was lifted, a return to normative judicial processes seems both desirable and essential.

They also said a recent decision by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR about former teacher Yüksel Yalçınkaya, who was convicted of terrorism due to his links to the Gülen movement shows that the Turkish judiciary’s interpretation of state security laws is highly problematic.

The Grand Chamber concluded that Yalçınkaya’s conviction violated several legal principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to a fair trial, the principle of no crime without law and the right to association.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the failed coup in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

“We genuinely believe the TCC [the Constitutional Court] has the potential to spearhead positive change, ameliorating the human rights situation in Türkiye and addressing the aforementioned systemic issues. After all, the judgments made today will form the legacy of tomorrow. In doing so, we are confident you can create a legacy that resonates with pride, justice, and fairness,” said the signatories of the letter.

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