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The President of the Council of State’s Speech Led to Outrage

Last week, President Erdoğan attended a ceremony held to mark the 149th anniversary of the foundation of the Council of State, one of the highest courts of Turkey. Its president, Zerrin Gungor, delivered a speech that left jaws among members of judiciary wide open, capturing the picture of how Turkey’s top courts toed the line with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Ms. Gungor’s defense of both the purge and the state of emergency practices sparked sharp criticism from leftist, independent and critical media and led to an outrage.

The first is Gungor’s statement that with the constitutional reform package on April 16 which transformed the system of governance into an executive-style presidential system introduced by the April 16 referendum, separation of powers had both been strengthened and more evident. So, according to Ms. Gungor new system will make Turkey’s governing checks and balances stronger. The second is that she said the state of emergency decrees were issued to “cleanse the state institutions of terror network members” and “protect democracy.” She said no restrictions had been imposed on individuals’ rights and freedoms.

The constitutional changes, which received 51.4 percent support from the public, were widely criticized for weakening the Parliament and the separation of powers while granting broad authorities to the president without much accountability. The Council of Europe’s constitutional law experts and the Venice Commission warned against a one-person regime in Turkey in a definite, as-adopted, opinion on proposed constitutional amendments before they were put to a referendum on April 16.

The Venice Commission warned that by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system.

In her speech, Gungor also denied restrictions of freedoms in the country during an ongoing state of emergency, which was first declared in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in the country on July 15, 2016. She said the aim of the declaration of emergency rule and the issuing of many government decrees during this process is to cleanse the state of members of terrorist organizations and to protect democracy.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, President Erdogan launched a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of anti-coup measures, dismissing around 150,000 people from state jobs without any investigation and a due process. There was no established record or criminal charge leveled against any of them. Moreover, 50,000 people jailed not only from Turkish Army but also all state institutions, universities, and Gulen-affiliated institutions. Allegations of torture to people under custody are frequently and extensively reported by many families’ of people under detention, and law and human rights organizations. Abduction and disappearance of some Gulenists are also alleged by families of disappeared. Finally, more than 1,000 companies confiscated, more than 1,500 civil society organizations have been shut down, including 151 media outlets.

In the legislative branch itself, more than 4,000 prosecutors and judges, including two members of Constitutional Court, have been sacked, and more than 3,000 of them placed behind bars. Then, many formerly AKP-affiliated names appointed as judges and state prosecutors. Member of Parliament from the main opposition party, Baris Yarkadas, documented more than 800 new judges had previously direct links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Mr. Yarkadas googled every single name of the newly elected judges and found out that more than 800 of them served in the ruling AKP or AKP-affiliated NGOs in different positions.

Meanwhile, there are also many other news reports emerged in critical media recalling that the Council of State’s president Gungor’s daughter Gonca Hatinoglu works as a manager at Erdogan’s presidential palace, while her son-in-law Volkan Hatinoglu was employed by a company in April 2016 that is a subsidiary of Ronesans Holding, which constructed the newly built presidential palace in Ankara.

Tahir Ipek

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