FREE JUDGES INITIATIVE
The night of July 15, 2016 was the beginning of one of the darkest periods of Turkey and Turkish judiciary. On the night of controversial July 15 coup attempt, which still contains too many unclear questions, while the tanks were on the streets, the crowds were in the squares, and even the names of military persons involved in the coup were not identified, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) held an emergency session just 3 hours after the beginning of the coup attempt at 01:00 o’clock and announced that 2745 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from their professions.
When considering how long it would take even to identify the 2745 names and write it down, it was clear that everything was planned beforehand and the HSYK well prepared for that night long before. In other words, the HSYK had illegally divided the judges and prosecutors into the groups and enlisted them one by one long before and waited for July 15 to purge those determined ones. Whereas, even the starting of the simplest judicial and administrative investigation about a judge or prosecutor is under the guarantee of constitution.
The judges and prosecutors who have been dismissed from their profession were detained and arrested in the morning of July 16. The justification for the arrest orders was the same; dismissal decision of HSYK and participating in the coup. In fact, none of the files of the arrested judges and prosecutors had the slightest “indication” that these judges and prosecutors had anything with the coup. There was no concrete evidence even in the HSYK’s decision regarding dismissal. In other words, the judges and prosecutors were arrested just because their names were on the lists prepared long before without any concrete accusations or evidence.
The ‘grand judicial purge’ which started on July 15 continued at full throttle in the following months and in 2018. As of this moth, the number of expelled judges has reached to 5,000. Today, it is possible to assess the purpose of these purges more clearly: The ruling government wanted to create an authoritarian regime in the country. It was not possible to establish such a regime before July 15. Therefore, it was necessary to purge the judiciary and to use the purged judiciary as a weapon. That is what they did on July 15.
First, they arrested judges and prosecutors, then journalists, human rights activists, academics, soldiers, police officers, businessmen, etc. The judiciary has been turned into an instrument that eliminates those who oppose the new authoritarian regime.
It is not an exaggeration to describe this process as “the darkest period of Turkish judiciary”. Because, the judiciary in Turkey was not controlled to this extent even during the period of “actual coups”. After the 27 May military coup in 1960, 66 out of 241 members of the Court of Cassation and 28 out of 54 members of the State Council were retired by force. In total, 520 out of 3123 judges and prosecutors were forcely retired by law. After the 12 Sepetember 1980 military coup, the number of judges and prosecutors who were retired by force was 47. After the both coups, the purge was just to make them retired by law and the purge rate was relatively low when compared to the purge numbers after the July 15 coup. Following the July 15 coup, two members of the Constitutional Court, 140 members of the Court of Cassation, 48 members of the Council of State and 4836 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from the profession and thousands of them were arrested, including the women judges. Their property was confiscated, and they were prevented from being employed in other public institutions. And they were not even allowed to practice as lawyer.
We claim that the history of world has not seen such a huge wave of purge and arrest of judges and prosecutors.
In the morning of July 16, when the houses of judges and prosecutors were raided, some of them did not surrender for their own personal reasons. These judges and those who could flee the country chose to struggle against this lawlessness and spread the voices of the victimized members of the Turkish judiciary around the world.
The free judges platform was initiated by the just a few Turkish judges who managed to stay out of prison. They initially tried to bring up from their own accounts on Twitter the drama of their colleagues who were exposed to the lawlessness.
Our primary goal is to publicize to the international community the grievances of the members of the judiciary in Turkey, to ensure that European People, Institutions and organizations who believe in and struggle for the supremacy of the law are aware of the grievances of Turkish judges, to get their support and to contribute to the implementation of the universal principles of law in Turkey and in the world.
If you ever ask, ‘Have you been successful so far?’; considering the judges and the prosecutors who have left their life in prison cells, female colleagues in prisons, the members of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, the Council of State not allowed to get in touch with each other in prison, thousands of members of the judiciary who were sentenced to a minimum of 6 years and 3 months imprisonment, and the insufficient efforts of international institutions and organizations the answer unfortunately is: No, we haven’t been able to do for them enough.
However, we believe in that people can be hopeful only in a world where the rule of law is paramount, and the fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed. We also believe that this hope is solely worth fighting for without giving up.
The main problem in Turkey is the lack of an independent and impartial judiciary and intimidation of the judges and prosecutors by the government. To stress the vitality of the rule of law and the independence of judiciary, we say: Free Judges!