On July 15th, 2016, a group of soldiers from the Turkish Armed Forces undertook a coup d’état to oust the Turkish Government. Although the facts of the coup attempt have never been duly investigated and revealed, it comes without a doubt that President Erdogan has managed to take advantage of the ‘failed’ coup attempt to the greatest extent possible. So much so that the Turkish Government’s immediate response to the coup attempt was to suspend judges and prosecutors, rather than launch a sweeping investigation into the military officers who were determined to be involved in the coup. Not long after the putschist troops hit the streets, the Turkish Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) held a meeting in the early hours of July 16 while all the hell broke loose in Istanbul and Ankara, the two main theatres of action during the ill-fated coup attempt. Immensely odd though it was, during the council was busy with deliberations to craft a hefty list in order to suspend, later purge, thousands of judges and prosecutors. In total, the HSYK initially suspended 2,745 judges and prosecutors from their posts; it instantaneously commenced a campaign to secure their detention across Turkey.
Although it is evident that lists of soon-to-be suspended, arrested and eventually dismissed judges and prosecutors might be pre-drafted, it is the first time the fact that profiling and blacklisting activities against certain members of the judiciary, dating back to 2013, has been revealed and recorded to an official court document, namely the decision of the 9th Criminal Chamber of the Turkish Court Cassation (Decision No: 2021/5).
In the final days of 2021, the 9th Chamber of the Turkish Court Cassation acting as the court of first instance published the reasoned decision of a verdict it gave earlier the same year. The decision lays bare how arbitrary the dismissals of thousands of experienced judges and public prosecutors immediately after the failed coup attempt of 2016 were. It shows how the senior AKP politicians, the pro-government judicial network called the Unity in Judiciary, and its prominent members conspired against purged members of the judiciary whom they thought they would not be able to bring under their full control.
Birol Erdem, a career judge since 1993, had served in the personnel department of the Justice Ministry for over a decade before he was first made an undersecretary to the Minister in 2011 and then a counsellor in late 2013, a position he served until 2016. He also served as a member of the then-Council of Judges and Prosecutors from 2010 until late 2013. Following the coup attempt, he was interrogated and tried for a perceived distant link to the Gulen Movement and eventually acquitted.
In his defence, he said that as soon as he was made the undersecretary to the Ministry of Justice in 2011, he started a campaign to target the members of the Gulen Movement within the judiciary. He claimed he appointed Abdullah Sahin as deputy general director of the personal department and assigned to him the task of preparing lists of judges and prosecutors who were believed to be affiliated with the Gulen Movement.
Erdem also said that he individually identified the members of the Gulen Movement who worked in the Court of Cessations and the Council of State. He revealed that he sent the names of people he identified as members of the Gulen Movement in different lists to his (justice) minister, the head of the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), and then-Prime Minister Erdogan. According to the court decision, he and a number of other judges and prosecutors “firstly started a study to recognise the members of the parallel structure in the organisation, his friends in the Ministry [of Justice] prepared the list of such people in the ministry, two people from the administrative branch prepared another list concerning the administrative court [judges]…. He said that he sent the lists …. to Hakan FİDAN, head of MIT, together with the names of certain members of the Council of State of the Court of Cassation.”
The five lists which Erdem illegally prepared containing the names of thousands of judges and public prosecutors would prove quite significant when Erdogan and his political allies decided to purge the names on the lists with alleged links to the Gulen Movement. Those who were included in Erdem’s lists were dismissed on the night of the failed coup and later arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences. Some of the members of the judiciary in question are yet to complete their sentences. Those who were not included in the lists, on the other hand, were spared prosecution. For instance, the vast majority of judges and public prosecutors who were involved in the graft operations in 2013, which exposed the acts of corruption committed by Erdogan’s son and the family members of his ministers, were arrested and sentenced to life sentences for attempting to overthrow Erdogan’s government. Yet, some judges who were similarly involved in this operation but were not included in Erdem’s lists miraculously escaped Erdogan’s wrath; some were even promoted.
Erdem’s confessions to avoid conviction, which he succeeded to do, are quite big revelations. He admits preparing five separate (black)lists. He also admits that the pro-government judicial network called the Unity in Judiciary Group (Association) was involved in the preparation of these lists. He also named others who worked on this unlawful profiling and blacklisting activities; for instance, Harun Kodalak, who was then a prosecutor in Ankara, was promoted for these activities and assigned as the Chief Public Prosecutor of Ankara; with this capacity, he circulated lists of 2745 judges and prosecutors and ordered their detention. Another name is Halil Koc, a member of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors since 2012. He has been one of the most effective actors in subjugating the Turkish judiciary to Erdogan. Furthermore, Metin Kiratli was another figure who was rewarded with becoming deputy chief of staff of President Erdogan. Lastly, Basri Bagci, then an ordinary judge and now an incumbent member of the Constitutional Court.
Two politicians who also worked to prepare these black(lists) are Mustafa Sentop and Seref Malkoc, who were promoted to the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament and the Chief Ombudsman.
Moreover, what is more scandalous than the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice illegally profiling members of the judiciary and sharing such information with the state intelligence is the fact that the Court of Cassation not only saw nothing wrong in making those illegal five lists as part of its deliberations but also attached them to its reasoned decision as appendix 8/1-5 and acquitted Birol Erdem solely on the basis that he actually prepared them.
“It is evident from the scope of the file that the defendant, at a stage when there was no investigation being conducted against the judicial arm of the FETÖ terrorist organisation shared the information he gathered about certain members of the organisation, whom he himself identified to operate within the hierarchy of the organisation, first with certain official bodies concerning the national security of the state, and then with the police and the prosecutors”
Birol Erdem, as part of his defence, spoke openly and boasted about his unlawful activities of blacklisting his colleagues. One would expect that he would be punished severely for these confessions. Rather, he was rewarded with an acquittal for sending thousands of his fellow members of the judiciary to arbitrary imprisonment.
In summary, as one of the purged judges Yavuz Aydin said in his address to 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, thousands went to bed as judges and prosecutors, and woke up as terrorists.
After the coup attempt of 2016, they first came for lawyers and judges. 👉A purged judge @yavuzaydin8 explains the persecution of lawyers, judges and prosecutors in Turkey.
@UNIndepJudges @patrhenry @PhilipLeach5 @CCBEinfo @phbuisseret @UIAdefense @JusticeDefend @NYCBarAssn pic.twitter.com/OleSJkz7qa
— The Arrested Lawyers (@ArrestedLawyers) July 16, 2020
According to official figures from the Turkish Ministry of Justice, 3,885 judges and public prosecutors have so far been dismissed from the Judiciary. As of 15 November 2022, 4,646 judges and prosecutors have been probed for terrorism; of those, 2,238 so far have been convicted for membership in an armed terrorist organisation, while 411 are still on trial and 157 are subject to investigation. The European Court of Human Rights, on the other hand, delivered more than 1000 judgments condemning Turkey for the detention of judges and prosecutors.
Alparslan Altan v. Turkey (No. 12778/17), 16 April 2019
Hakan Bas v. Turkey (No. 66448/17), 3 March 2020
Tercan v. TURKEY (No. 6158/18), 29 June 2021
Turan & 426 others v. Turkey (No. 75805/16), 23 Nov 2021
Acar & 49 others v. Turkey (No. 64251/16), 28 June 2022
Bayram & 107 others v. Turkey (No. 20061/17), 6 Sep 2022
Ataman & 30 others v. Turkey (No. 14676/17), 6 Sep 2022
Geles & 69 others v. Turkey (No. 75881/16)
Ulusoy & 20 others v. Turkey (No. 73062/16), 6 Sep 2022
Baser & Ozcelik v. Turkey (No. 30694/15 & 30803/15), 13 Sep 2022
Moral & 31 others v. Turkey (No. 49867/17), 18 October 2022
Sevinc & 134 others v. Turkey (No. 63634/16), 18 October 2022
Gungor & 81 others v. Turkey (No. 59639/17), 13 December 2022
Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog