General Staff should not interfere with judiciary

The General Staff recently issued a press release about the ongoing Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan trial, underlining that they failed to understand why the defendants are still being kept behind bars. In other words, the General Staff wants the defendants to be released.

Our Turkish Penal Code (TCK) defines a crime called “attempting to influence a fair trial.” Article 277 of the TCK reads: “Anyone who attempts unlawfully to influence members of the judiciary by giving instructions, exerting pressure or influence for or against one or more of the parties in a trial, defendants, intervening parties or victims by any kind of means shall be punished with imprisonment from two to four years. If the attempt does not go beyond the level of recommendation the sentence shall be imprisonment from six months to two years.”

I have never seen proper implementation of this article. Courts have always used it as a weapon against journalists who report or write articles about ongoing trials. That is, this article has been employed only against those people who actually do not have any chance of influencing judicial processes. On the other hand, those who have influenced and even radically shaken judicial proceedings have never been penalized so far.

One of the best known examples is the trial of the members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) who had been caught red handed during a bombed attack in the Southeast and, referring to them, our former chief of General Staff said, “I know them; they are good boys.” After this intervention, the prosecutor was sacked and the defendants were acquitted and everything went on without any change.

The press release the General Staff issued last Tuesday indicates that there is still a long way to go before putting the military in their place in this country. The General Staff threatened a court with all of society as a witness. It put itself in place of the court, and said the coup attempt in connection with the defendants are being tried actually did not happen and, rather, was an exercise plan. This is a serious intervention. This statement portrays the court as a body that performs illegitimate activities.

In countries like Turkey, the reactions of civil society and democratic players to such transgressions are critical. In this context, I would like to share with you the press release the Human Rights Agenda Association (İHGD) issued in response to the General Staff’s statement. I hope the General Staff’s memorandum-like statement is received by sufficiently large protests, as it deserves to be, and that the trials related to Turkey’s past can be carried out in a healthy manner.

As we intend to note in the press release, criticisms may be voiced by the trial procedures in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, but such criticisms may not be made in the name of institutions. Thus, such statements made on behalf of institutions cannot be considered democratic criticisms as they are intended to exert pressure on the judiciary. This is the gist of the following press release by the İHGD:

“We are concerned about the military’s meddling with the judiciary!

“The General Staff has made a statement noting that they have difficulty in understanding why the court is still keeping 163 retired or active-duty military officers behind bars in the Sledgehammer case.

“Given the military’s influence over politics and the judiciary and its tradition of making unconstitutional interventions and the decisive impact of these interventions, it is obvious that this statement means pressure on the court and that we all must be deeply concerned about the future course of the trial.

“The practice of making arrests in Turkey may be criticized both in general terms and with regard to this trial. But such criticism, which may be allowed for civilian individuals and civil society, cannot be considered as falling within the ambit of duties and powers of the armed bureaucracy.

“We, as the İHGD, hardly believe that the court can be truly fair and issue a truly legal and conscious decision after this stage. We demand that necessary legal and disciplinary proceedings should be immediately launched against the members of the military who interfered with the judiciary by overstepping their constitutional powers and authorities, particularly the chief of General Staff.

“If this is not done, we believe, not only the Sledgehammer trial, but also the Ergenekon, Malatya and Dink trials may be corrupted under militarist pressures, and these trials that are vitally important for Turkish society and that were launched at a heavy price may end up as inconclusive.

With regards,

Human Rights Agenda Association”