Sondergerichte vs. Schwurgerichte

Special courts vs. jury courts (lit. “oath courts” because jurors are sworn in).

Apparently Turkey has been under international criticism for years for using special courts [Sondergerichte] to try serious political crimes. Now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has announced they will be using normal Schwurgerichte [jury trials] for these crimes as well. However, the announcement comes after Mr. Erdoğan’s government made other, unhelpful changes to Turkey’s judicial system: Human Rights Watch asked Turkish President Abdullah Gül not to sign a new law passed in the second week of this month that reduced the autonomy of Turkey’s High Council of Judges and Prosecutors or H.S.Y.K., saying the law exclusively serves to increase the government’s control over that council.

The Sondergerichte/Schwurgerichte legislation package passed in the third week of this month did contain some mild improvements. In addition to eliminating special courts for trials of serious political crimes it also reduced the maximum time you can be held in Turkish prison while they’re investigating you for a crime, from 7.5 to 5 years. In future, arrest warrants and house razzias can only be executed on the basis of “concrete evidence.” Supposedly this legislation made tapping phones more difficult.

However, in the first week of this very busy February 2014, after having quickly replaced the head of Turkey’s telecommunications oversight authority, Telekomünikasyon İletişim Başkanlığı, Mr. Erdoğan passed Turkey’s now notorious new Internet surveillance and censorship law that expanded the agency’s powers to collect data about people’s internet surfing and to block web pages.

In the second week of this month, fistfighting is said to have broken out in the Turkish parliament during debate over Mr. Erdoğan’s bill to get more control over the national board of prosecutors and judges, H.S.Y.K. They passed the legislation anyway. One M.P. had to go to hospital for a broken nose.

In the third week of this very busy February, the government put forward draft legislation expanding the power of the country’s National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı or M.İ.T.). It would define prison sentences of up to 12 years as punishment for publishing secret M.İ.T. documents, for example. Update on 17 Apr 2014: The parliament passed this. Prosecutors are no longer allowed to investigate M.İ.T. agents for crimes if the agents say they were on government business. M.İ.T. is to have access to all government data, to be able to listen without a court order to phone calls inside and outside Turkey, and to be given all businesses’ data about their customers if they request it.

The brief time span in which three terrible laws were created—the drastic Internet law on 06 Feb, the kneecapping of judges and prosecutors on 15 Feb, and now this latest proposal on 21 Feb announced as democratic reforms in response to outside criticism of the Ergenekon trials—cloaked the scope of these anti-democratic changes to the rest of the world.

Turkish protesters’ anger over all the bills and the trend they indicate was easily misinterpreted by outsiders as a response to the first, internet law. Attempts to mitigate or react to one of the new terrible laws interfered with attempts to prevent the next one. The winter Olympics in Russia and the historic events in Ukraine also diverted attention from Turkish politics.

Update on 11 Apr 2014: Turkey’s Constitutional Court found the reforms unconstitutional that gave Mr. Erdoğan’s justice minister sweeping powers over the H.S.Y.K. board that appoints and fires prosecutors and judges. The F.A.Z.’s article only said the court overturned parts of this reform, however.

The prime minister’s son’s foundation received donations of >72 million euros from outside Turkey and ~10 million euros from inside Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son and daughter Bilal Erdoğan and Esra Erdoğan are members of the Türgev foundation’s management board [Vorstand]. The organization is supposed to support Turkish youth and education; the opposition C.H.P. party said it’s a corruption center where businesspeople launder bribes they have to pay to get public contracts.

(ZONE dah gr-r-r ICHH tah   vair seuss   SHVOOR gr-r-r ICHH tah.)

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