The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey on Tuesday for the arrest of 427 judges and prosecutors in the days following the failed coup attempt in 2016. The Strasbourg court considers the arrests to have been carried out according to procedures which violated the statute which protects the representatives of justice and, consequently, the Turkish State must pay compensation of 5,000 euros to each of the persons concerned, most of whom are in prison.
The July 15, 2016 military uprising – in which 251 people on the side loyal to the government and at least a hundred among the putschists were killed – was carried out by certain units of the Turkish Armed Forces which, according to the Turkish government, followed the directives from the politico-religious organization of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher who was once an ally of the current Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but with whom he broke off relations from 2013.
Since the 1980s, the Gulenists they have infiltrated their followers at various levels of the administration, in particular the police and the judiciary, where the judges and prosecutors attached to this religious organization have acquired great powers following the judicial reform approved in 2010 and supported by Erdoğan. Although Fethullah Gülen denied his involvement in the 2016 coup, there is evidence of the involvement of close supporters of this preacher.
Purges against opponents
After the coup, purges were launched against anyone suspected of having had a relationship with the Gulenists, although later they also spread against opponents of different political persuasions. More than half a million people were investigated and almost 100,000 were imprisoned. Some 130,000 civil servants lost their jobs, although some managed to get them back some time later. Nearly 200 media have been closed.
The 427 judges and prosecutors referred to in the “Turan and others v. Turkey” case which the Strasbourg Court has just condemned have exercised their functions at the Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation and in other courts and offices, and were arrested in the days following the failed putsch. Already the day after the coup, Erdogan announced that he had lists of alleged justice suspects who were arrested.
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The justification of Turkish justice for proceeding to the arrest of these judges and prosecutors is that they were in “flagrante delicto”, being members of the organization gulenist, which in Turkey is defined as “FETÖ terrorist organization”. But the European Court of Human Rights considers that they could only have been arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in connection with a flagrant act of the coup “at the time or immediately after having committed an act directly linked to the coup attempt” and not on the basis of “speculation” about his relationship with the organization behind the attempt. The Strasbourg Court also recalls that judges and prosecutors, within the framework of the democratic system, enjoy a special status if they are the subject of an investigation and can only be placed in preventive detention if they are turns out they’ve committed a blatant crime.
The Turkish state must now pay more than two million euros in compensation, since Turkey, as a founding state and member of the Council of Europe, has the obligation to comply with the Strasbourg judgments. However, in recent years the Erdogan government has sought excuses for not complying with the decisions of this pan-European tribunal, for example those calling for the release of philanthropist and activist Osman Kavala and Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has already indicated that if these requirements are not met, an infringement procedure will be initiated which could lead to the withdrawal of Turkey’s voting rights. Riza Türmen, a former Turkish judge at the Court of Strasbourg, went even further and raised in a recent interview the possibility of Turkey being kicked out of the organization for its refusal to comply with the sentences.
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