Turkish lawmakers have engaged in a noisy and almost physical dispute in parliament over remarks by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a top court ruling that led to the release of two journalists who were arrested in late 2015 over a news story on state-owned trucks allegedly carrying weapons to Syria.
Harshly criticizing the ruling by the Constitutional Court that allowed for the release of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureu chief Erdem Gül, Erdoğan said he “[did] not accept by nor respect” the ruling and vowed not to abide by it.
“This incident has nothing to do with freedom of expression, it is a case of spying” Erdoğan added on Feb. 28.
Dündar and Gül, who were arrested on Nov. 26, 2015, on terrorism charges over the news story, served in prison for more than 90 days under “pre-trial” arrest in a case filed after daily Cumhuriyet published the story in May 2015 on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks supposedly carrying “aid” to Syrian Turkmens.
The Syria-bound trucks, found full of weapons and ammunition, were stopped and searched by gendarmerie in southern Turkey in early 2014, the daily said at the time, prompting questions about Turkey's involvement in Syria.
“If you say you would not abide by the court ruling, you do not abide by rule of law... Then you do not have a concept of ‘rule of law,' but law of those who hold power,” said Oktay Vural, the deputy parliamentary group chair of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), speaking in the Turkish Parliament General Assembly (TBMM) in Ankara late Feb. 28.
“We do not accept the way the Turkish president put the ruling” said Çağlar Demirel, the deputy parliamentary group chair of the Kurdish-issue focused Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).
Demirel said the release of Dündar and Gül was truly joyful news and underscored that speeches Erdoğan delivered might have had bearings on local court rulings.
In a verbal dispute with lawmakers from opposition parties, lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supported Erdoğan's remarks on the journalists' release, which topped the parliament agenda.
AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Bülent Turan said all judicial decisions could be criticized.
“Mr. President has criticized the Constitutional Court's decision. We are criticizing [it] too" Turan said, recalling that individual access by citizens to the Constitutional Court, which led to the two journalists' release, came into effect in September 2012, as part of a set of government-led reforms voted on in the Sept. 12, 2010, referendum and carried out as part of Turkey's bid for EU membership.
The verbal dispute later turned physical as Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Barış Yarkadaş and AKP deputy Mehmet Metiner were minutes away from blows, before lawmakers around the two prevented any physical confrontation.
“Next week, an appeal against the local court's decision to release [the two journalists] will be discussed. The president says, ‘The local court should insist on its decision.' This is a direct order for those who will next week discuss the appeal. The statement [by Erdoğan] is beyond advice, it is an instruction” CHP deputy parliamentary group chair Özgür Özel said at a press conference on Feb. 28.