Turkey: New Judicial Year begins with heavy problems

The Arrested Lawyers Initiative has made a summary translation of the press conference given by Mustafa Yeneroglu, MP and former Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Turkish Parliament, on the occasion of the start of the new judicial year. Subtitles are added by us to make it reader-friendly.


First of all, I wish that the 2023-2024 Judicial Year will be a good one for our country, our citizens, the judiciary and the legal community.

On this occasion, today I will present to you Turkey’s “report card” concerning justice and the rule of law.

Non-Independence of Judiciary

Turkey, unfortunately, enters this judicial year in a state of complete lawlessness in which the minimum requirements of the rule of law are ignored and the separation of powers and judicial independence are completely broken.

For years, the judiciary in our country has been in a situation where it has been ruling according to the demands of the government in many cases, turning a blind eye to all unlawfulness and corruption due to the fear that the government would be outraged if it applied the law.

The government holds the sword of Damocles over judges and prosecutors. The President is acting as if he is a judge. We are in an unfathomable period in which it is perceived as normal for the government to constantly threaten the members of the Constitutional Court who are trying to fulfil their duties and try and bring them into its line. I know countless judges and prosecutors who are trying their best not to incur the wrath of the government, bending the law and queuing at the door of politicians and lawyers with heavyweight connections in order not to lose their privileges.

Corruption and Clientelism in the Turkish Judiciary

Today, I know judges who are involved in bribery and corruption up to their necks, but who are sitting in the high judiciary seats and who cannot be dealt with because they have heavyweight backers. I know judges who were threatened like so; “If you don’t release Mafia leaders from prison, we will make you a regular judge”, and who are offered promotion similarly; “But if you follow our instructions, we will make you a high judge”.

There is not a single person in the judicial community who is aware of  the fact that the appointments in all but one chief prosecutor’s office in Istanbul  are being made by a  lawyer with influencer backers.

How sad, isn’t it?

In the past there were judges who submitted to the military, today there are judges and prosecutors who submit politicians and lawyers with heavyweight connections.

Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK)

The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) has become a plaything of the government, giving the post not to the competent, not to the righteous, not to the one who recognises no other guide but justice, but to  those who keep quiet about the evil, to those who submit to power. The Council has directly established a system to keep the judiciary under control by expelling, suspending or punishing judges and prosecutors with demotion. The European Network of Judicial Boards announces to the world that the CJP is now just a name without any authority (to ensure independence of the judiciary).

The State of The Rule of Law

According to the “2022 Rule of Law Index” published by the World Justice Project, we are ranked 116th among 140 countries. In 2012, when the national income was at its highest, we were ranked 68th in the index. 2/3 of our citizens do not trust the judiciary. Among 38 OECD member countries, we rank 36th in terms of trust in the judiciary.

Country of Prohibitions

Yes, our country is a country of prohibitions.

Of course, in a system where judicial independence is bankrupt, constitutional and legal guarantees for fundamental rights become meaningless.

We live in a climate of fear where journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and thousands of citizens are arrested on baseless allegations, and the most basic rights are at the disposal of the government. Freedom House’s World Freedom Report also shows us this reality. According to the report, Turkey is an unfree country as it has been since 2018.

Human Rights Action Plan of 2021 has taken its place in history as a black humour

As you also know, it has been exactly two and a half years since the Human Rights Action Plan was announced to the public with a grand launch by Mr President in March 2021. However, out of a total of 276 targets to be completed in two years, only 113 have been completed and 163 targets have not been met. In other words, almost 2/3 of the promised actions have been forgotten. Today the Minister of Justice announced again that they are preparing a new one, but what about the old one? Did you throw it in the rubbish bin? Is that time of propaganda over?

Let alone doing what they promised, they did the opposite. The disinformation (censorship) law, which severely restricts freedom of expression in this process, was adopted shortly after this action plan was announced. Opposing civil society organisations continue to be subjected to heavy pressure, and associations and foundations continue to be worn down by unwarranted investigations. The example of Osman Kavala is as clear as day… Mr Kavala has been in prison for 2131 days. Although the Council of Europe has officially initiated a violation procedure, the ECtHR judgement is still not being implemented and an innocent citizen is being held in prison on instructions of the Government.

As long as a President who rejects the separation of powers and places himself above the law has the power to continue these evils, you can prepare a thousand action plans if you want. You will only deceive yourself and unfortunately sometimes society.

Torture and Impunity

Another promise in the action plan is to continue the policy of zero tolerance to torture. According to the 2022 report of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), the number of applicants to the HRFT for torture and ill-treatment increased by 22 per cent compared to the previous year. In fact, the second highest number of applications was reached after the highest number of applications in 2001. Of the 1201 applicants, 756 stated that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in 2022 and the others in previous years.

Arbitrary Detentions

Similarly, arbitrary arrests are still continuing despite promises in the action plan that the problem would be solved. One example is Hatay MP Can Atalay. Although Mr Atalay was elected as an MP, he has still not been released, and his right to be elected and to engage in political activity, as well as his right to liberty and security of person are clearly violated. According to the caselaw of the Constitutional Court, Atalay’s case falls within the scope of immunity. These issues were examined in the judgements of Enis Berberoğlu, Leyla Güven and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu and their release was ordered.

Ongoing Implications of State of Emergency Decrees of 2016-2018

Another unlawfulness is the problem of decree laws. The dismissals by emergency decrees and unfair trials resulting from the arbitrary application of terrorism legislation is a serious problem that Turkey must face and urgently resolve. There are serious and indescribable suffering.

Tens of thousands of people who have been acquitted, who have received a non-prosecution judgement, who are not under investigation, are still not being reinstated. Countless people are unjustly kept in prison.

I now appeal to the government; It is the minimum requirement of humanity, let alone the rule of law, to end these unlawful acts as soon as possible. Until and unless the issue of state of emergency decrees and the grievances arising from unfair trials are resolved, a return to the rule of law will not be possible in our country.

Over Crowded Prisons and Arbitrary Parole Laws

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the problems we are experiencing in the penal system. As usual, the government is trying to save the day by filling and emptying prisons.

According to the Council of Europe’s 2022 Penal Statistics Report, Turkey has the highest number of prisoners and convicts among 48 countries in Europe, and prisons are constantly overcrowded.

With the law that came into force just last month, they emptied the prisons again. In 2020, a similar amendment was made to the Law on Execution of Sentences due to the pandemic. In April 2020, when the amendment was made, the total prison population was 310 thousand. With the amendment, 90 thousand people were released and the prison population was reduced to 220 thousand. However, at the end of the first year, in April 2021, this number reached 314 thousand again. It is clear that the prison population will increase similarly after the amendments that came into force last month.

Because instead of permanently solving the problems in the criminal justice system, the government finds superficial solutions to save the day, like in the Human Rights Action Plan, in order to make an impression and to say that we also have a rule of law. It ignores the real problem, namely the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

For this reason, I am responding to Mr. Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç’s statement that they are preparing a Judicial Reform Strategy Document and Human Rights Action Plan again: The situation is obvious! Why are you spending so much effort on texts that will only remain on the President’s prompter? And, for this reason, this government’s Human Rights Action Plan has also taken its place in history as a black humour. It could not go beyond being a document of insincerity that does not even deserve its name.

However, the solution is very simple! If you actually implement even half of your action plan prepared in the past, if you at least establish the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, our most fundamental problem will already be solved. But you cannot solve it because you want the judiciary to continue to serve you!

Ensure judicial independence. Take your hands off fundamental rights.

Do not stain innocent people, do not usurp their freedoms.

In other words, limit your power with the law.

Start fighting corruption.

Otherwise, without the democratic rule of law, prosperity and being a strong country is a dream! Don’t fool people with propaganda!

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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