Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Closure Cases Criticized in Europe, Emphasizes Need for Judicial Reform

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman
European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey Ria Oomen-Ruijten in the European Parliament.

Response from Europe has been highly-critical of the closure case recently opened against AKP and EU parliamentarians have already begun to talk of the case being a sever hindrance to European membership. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters on Saturday, "In a normal European democracy, political issues are debated in parliament and decided in the ballot box, not in the courtroom."

However, what is perhaps most sad is that this is a good thing for many of the people with whom I have talked who are already fatigued with Turkey's continued efforts to join the European Union. One person told me how disgusted she was of Turkey's constant need to bow at Europe's feet (words she used) and cited how Turkey had already given up too much of its national sovereignty when the country banned the death penalty and opted not to carry out PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's death sentence.

Much has been made of increased Europe fatigue, but for those who are happy with the closure case (a small minority), pressure from Europe will have no effect whatsoever and will further reinforce their motivation to ban AKP and protect what they see as the state's secular inheritance from Atatürk. However, the EU strong line is useful insomuch as it shores up support for AKP and reminds those Euro-philes who overlap with the anti-AKP camp that closing the party will be taken very seriously in EU diplomatic circles.

The closure case will likely reinforce EU concerns about the independence of Turkey's judiciary and its use as a political weapon to be used against opposition parties at the whim of judges and prosecutors who are find themselves in the democratic minority. The case leaves many EU politicians frustrated when left to think that AKP might have avoided this mess if the party had eschewed the political opportunity MHP offered it in February and instead focused on constitutional reform. However, in the current circumstances, there is no use dwelling on the past. Still, sigh . . .

From Sunday's Today's Zaman:

European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey Ria Oomen-Ruijten, whose report was published only several days ago, had some difficulty in believing the news that a lawsuit had been filed at the Constitutional Court to close down the AK Party.

"This is absolutely crazy. I have never, ever, seen in my life a prosecutor using legal tools for political purposes. I do not believe at all that the AK Party has been the center of anti-secular activities. There are even people saying that the AK Party is defending secularism in Turkey," Oomen-Ruijten said, arguing that prosecutors made fools of themselves with such cases.

In her newly published report on Turkey Oomen-Ruijten had noted: "Notes the progress made as regards the efficiency of the judiciary;welcomes the Turkish government's plan to implement a reform strategy designed to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and to increase the confidence enjoyed by the judiciary amongst the public; is of the view that this strategy should, as a priority, ensure that interpretation of legislation related to human rights and fundamental freedoms is in line with ECHR standards; notes with concern that, in 2007, the European Court of Human Rights handed down more judgments against Turkey for violations of the ECHR than against any other country."

She said the case against the AK Party demonstrated clearly the urgent need to radically reform the nation's judiciary.

To AKP's credit, Erdoğan has instructed all party members to remain calm and not to issue any strongly retaliatory statements. President Gül, who under the Turkish Constitution is theoretically positioned to be above politics, is also included on the list of 71 AKP members the closure case is asking the Constitutional Court to ban from politics for a five-year period. His inclusion in the "list of 71" is particularly controversial since the only crime the president can be tried for under the current constitution is treason

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