Politicization in the Turkish Judiciary System Deepens

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 7

The Ergenekon investigation has sparked a controversy about whether the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is using public prosecutors to subdue the opposition. The debate about whether the judiciary system is being politicized resurfaced once again, after the most recent phase of the Ergenekon investigation led to the arrest of well known military and civilian bureaucrats. Among those questioned about their possible connections with the Ergenekon criminal network was the retired chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Sabih Kanadoglu, who earned his fame not because of his job performance but because of his "inventiveness" in finding a legal reason why parliament needed a quorum of 367 members to elect the president, which was a blatant attempt to prevent the AKP-dominated body from choosing the president in 2007.

On January 7 police searched Kanadoglu’s house and seized some of his documents and computers. During the search, Public Prosecutor and Chairman of Judges and Prosecutors Union (YARSAV) Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu visited Kanadoglu and issued a statement saying that "conducting investigations similar to those carried out during military coups should be avoided. This [the police search at Sabih Kanadoglu’s home] is an attack on judicial independence. The judiciary system will prevent such attacks on [itself]" (Hurriyet, January 7). Moreover, the Istanbul Bar Association issued a statement saying, "The Ergenekon investigation is being performed to take revenge [on opponents of the AKP]" (Radikal, January 8). The Ankara Bar Association also criticized the Ergenekon investigation saying, "The way of handling the investigation could turn a state of law into a totalitarian regime" (Radikal, January 8).

A group of Supreme Court judges and prosecutors also visited Kanadoglu and issued a statement saying, "He is our [retired] chief prosecutor. We visited the Republic and Turkey" (Star, January 9). By emphasizing "we visited the Republic and Turkey," the Supreme Court members simply draw a direct parallel between Kanadoglu’s political views and the foundations of the Turkish republic. This way of associating the detained Ergenekon suspects with the secular foundations of the republic makes Kemalists and neo-nationalists nervous about whether the AKP government is intentionally using the Ergenekon investigation as a means of weakening the camp that defends the secularist interpretation of the Republic.

On the other end of the spectrum, liberals, Islamists, and AKP circles criticize the attitudes of Eminagaoglu and other public figures who oppose the Ergenekon investigation. Taha Akyol, a leading liberal thinker, criticized Eminagaoglu for taking a political position about the investigation (Milliyet, January 8). A columnist in Today’s Zaman censured those who opposed the Ergenekon investigation:

The operations are not being carried out to fulfill the desires of adventurous police chiefs. There is strong resistance [from pro-Ergenekon network actors] to admitting that in this process, not only instructions by the prosecutor but also a court order are needed to proceed with arrests. …What is illegal in this process? (Today’s Zaman, January 10).
The latest confrontation between YARSAV and the government intensified the debate over whether the judiciary system has been politicized and, if so, by whom. The YARSAV Chairman held a press conference, in which he accused the government of resorting to policies similar to those that Hitler and Mussolini once used to strengthen their regimes. Eminagaoglu further argued that the government policies allowing the police and the National Intelligence Service (MIT) to expand their wiretapping activities and use the information in the Ergenekon investigation were part of a deliberate government effort to create a police state (Cumhuriyet, January 12).

In response, the justice minister said, "YARSAV is an association. It doesn’t represent the world of the judiciary. The latest remarks of Eminagaoglu gave me the impression that YARSAV has finally become YARSAP, namely, the Judges and Prosecutors Party” (Today’s Zaman, January 13).

Another part of the debate over the Ergenekon investigation has primarily concentrated on whether there is an internal investigation of prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, to stop his efforts to investigate deeper into the Ergenekon network. A number of political moves have been made in an attempt to stifle Oz’s investigation. The Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK), for example, has delayed Oz’s promotion until an inquiry into allegations against him has been completed (Today’s Zaman, October 30).

Most recently, Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Yakut Cengiz Engin was invited to the HSYK to discuss the Ergenekon case. It was reported that the HSYK’s invitation was the beginning of a politically motivated process to fire Oz (Bugun, January 12). It was announced that the chief prosecutor’s trip was a routine visit to Ankara and not related to any internal investigation concerning prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, When specifically asked if there was any investigation of Oz, however, the chief prosecutor did not directly deny the rumors but said, “I am not aware of any investigation concerning Prosecutor Zekeriya Oz” (Yeni Safak, January 13). This may very well mean that there could be either a continuing inquiry or demands to investigate Oz in order to suppress his efforts.

It appears that not only the public is divided along pro-Ergenekon and anti-Ergenekon lines but also the judiciary system as a whole. While the Chairman of the Supreme Court said that “it is not right to share my opinion about the Ergenekon investigation” (Zaman, January 13), a group of the Supreme Court members visited Kanadoglu to show their solidarity with the retired prosecutor and draw parallels between his political views and the foundations of the Republic.

It seems that the Turkish judiciary is in a bind. No matter how the Ergenekon investigation develops, it will further politicize the judiciary system. If the attempts to sack Oz are successful, the public will lose its faith in the political system. If Oz continues to investigate, it will further irritate the defenders of the current system, neo-nationalists; and they will lose their faith in the judiciary system. The only way that politicization of the Ergenekon investigation can be reduced is for the investigators and prosecutors to be more careful about due process and not to detain those who have no direct link to the Ergenekon network.