Erdogan blasts Turkey's top court, backs probe into judges
November 10, 2023 06:04 PM
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused Turkey's highest court of making repeated mistakes and defended an unprecedented criminal investigation against its judges.
Turkey has been teetering on the edge of a judicial crisis due to a clash between the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The standoff highlights lingering Western worries about the rule of law in one of the NATO defence organisation's most strategic members.
The dispute revolves around jailed lawyer Can Atalay -- one of seven defendants sentenced last year to 18 years in prison as part of a highly controversial trial that also saw the award-winning philanthropist Osman Kavala jailed for life.
The 47-year-old Atalay was allowed to run from jail in May's general election and was elected to parliament as a member of the leftist Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP).
The Constitutional Court ruled last month that Atalay enjoyed immunity from prosecution granted to elected lawmakers and ordered the Supreme Court to reverse its earlier decision to keep him in jail.
The Supreme Court this week refused to comply and filed a criminal complaint against Constitutional Court judges who sided with Atalay.
Erdogan broke a two-day silence on the legal standoff by siding firmly with the Supreme Court.
"At this point, unfortunately, the Constitutional Court has made many mistakes, one after another. This seriously saddens us," he told Turkish reporters on board his return flight from a trip to Uzbekistan.
The powerful Turkish leader added that the Supreme Court's request for prosecutors to investigate the Constitutional Court's judges "cannot be thrown away or pushed aside".
'Threat of perverts'
Kavala was found guilty of trying to overthrow the constitutional order by allegedly funding a wave 2013 protests that posed the first serious challenge to Erdogan's two-decade rule.
Atalay represented the legal defence team of the people involved in those protests.
Both men called the charges against them political and fictitious.
Erdogan suggested that Atalay could flee Turkey if he is released.
"Unfortunately, similar things have happened before," he said.
Turkey's parliament has previously voted to lift immunity from prosecution of opposition politicians -- many of them Kurds -- that the government views as "terrorists".
"Our parliament also acts slowly on these issues. In other words, many terrorists escaped and went abroad because the process of lifting their immunity in parliament was dragging out," Erdogan said.
"My country should not and cannot face the threat of perverts who have fled abroad."
The Constitutional Court has sided with Erdogan's government in other high-profile cases and is a frequent target of opposition criticism.
It upheld Kavala's conviction last month.
Erdogan unleashed sweeping purges and cemented his control over state institutions after surviving a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Critics accuse him of stacking the courts with allies who closely follow the government's line.
Turkey's main opposition parties have all rallied to the Constitutional Court's defence this week.
The court is comprised of 15 judges, of whom seven are appointed by Erdogan.
The main opposition party announced plans Thursday not to leave parliament until Erdogan's ruling alliance convenes an emergency meeting on the court dispute.
Opposition leader Ozgur Ozel accused the Supreme Court of "attempting to rebel against the constitutional order" and staging "a coup attempt".
Hundreds of lawyers from Turkey's main bar associations -- many of them holding up copies of the constitution -- joined a march Friday heading for the Supreme Court building in Ankara.
"Our citizens need to understand that this struggle is not just a struggle of lawyers, it is a struggle for the constitution," Ankara Bar Association head Mustafa Koroglu said.