Turkey's Constitutional Court rulings are binding for everyone, the head of the top court has said following critical statements from the country's president over a ruling that led to the release of two journalists who were arrested in late 2015 over a news report about trucks allegedly carrying weapons to Syria.
“The rulings the Constitutional Court issues within its authorization defined by the laws in the constitution are binding for everybody and every institution. This is a constitutional rule” Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan said at a conference on supporting individual applications to the Constitutional Court in Ankara on March 1.
Arslan's statements came after remarks by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan over a ruling issued by the top court that led to the release of daily Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül early Feb. 26 sparked a debate through press statements among political party leaders.
Erdoğan said he would neither accept nor respect the ruling issued by the Constitutional Court late Feb. 25 that provided the legal ground for the release of Dündar and Gül hours after the ruling. “This incident has nothing to do with freedom of expression; it is a case of spying” Erdoğan said Feb. 28 ahead of an official trip to Africa.
Dündar and Gül, who were arrested on Nov. 26, 2015, on terrorism charges, were incarcerated for more than 90 days under “pre-trial” arrest in a case filed after daily Cumhuriyet published a report in May 2015 that reported on state-owned trucks allegedly carrying weapons to Syria. The trucks belonging to Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MİT) were stopped and searched in the southern Turkish province of Hatay in January 2014, the daily said in the report.
“The person who wrote the story will pay a heavy price” Erdoğan said June 2, 2015, filing an individual criminal complaint against Dündar and the daily, claiming that the story “included some footage and information that are not factual.”
Arslan said court rulings could be criticized, while condemning what he described as imaginary conversations created to depict the Constitutional Court as a judiciary body whose rulings depend on personal judgements.
“Justices are not sacred beings. Hence, court rulings can and should be criticized. Otherwise, the law could not be developed further. We, for this reason, respect any sort of criticisms against our rulings. However, I strongly condemn and reject any statements and comments directed at myself and our personnel with imaginary dialogues that imply that our court issues rulings based on personal judgements,” Arslan said March 1.
Erdoğan's remarks on the issue precipitated a confrontation between Turkish lawmakers in parliament, even leading to a physical dispute between politicians from opposition parties and those from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) late Feb. 28.
“If you say you will not abide by the court ruling, you do not abide by the rule of law... Then you do not have a concept of the ‘rule of law,' but the law of those who hold power” Oktay Vural, the deputy parliamentary group chair of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said during a parliamentary session in Ankara late Feb. 28.
“We do not accept the way the Turkish president reacted to the ruling” said Çağlar Demirel, the deputy parliamentary group chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish issue.
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 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 a Sept. 12, 2010, referendum and carried out as part of Turkey's bid for EU membership.
“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 discuss the appeal next week. The statement [by Erdoğan] is beyond advice, it is an instruction” said Özgür Özel, the deputy parliamentary group chair of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), at a press conference on Feb. 28.
The verbal dispute later turned physical as CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş and AKP deputy Mehmet Metiner were moments away from blows, before lawmakers around the two prevented any physical confrontation.
Remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over a ruling issued by the country's top court that led to the release of two critical journalists only reflect Erdoğan's personal view, the Turkish deputy prime minister has also said.
“It is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, under the [then] prime ministry of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that implemented the right to individual applications to the Constitutional Court in Turkey. In addition, our president clarified his own personal position regarding the Constitutional Court ruling” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said Feb. 29.
“Everyone in Turkey can express their opinion against any court decision. There is nothing more natural than that. Moreover, our president expressed his opinion after the Constitutional Court ruling, not before the decision had been taken. Otherwise, it is not an opinion that would abolish the fact that the Constitutional Court is an authority to apply to for individuals. Our president himself is already the one who took this step,” he said.
Meanwhile, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ described the ruling issued by the country's top court as a “violation of the constitution” in his postings on Twitter on March 1.
“The latest ruling by the Constitutional Court [that ruled the pre-trial arrest of Dündar and Gül was rights violation] poses an element of pressure on judges and intervention against a court that has yet to start trial,” Bozkır said.
“Even before the indictment was read and testimonies are heard without the assessment of evidence, the ruling the Constitutional Court issued is a violation of the constitution” Bozkır added.