Release of Jailed Defendants Reveals Flaws In Legal System

Nicole Pope writes about the recent decision to release jailed defendants whose appeals are still pending for over ten years, including some members of the Turkish terror organization Hizbullah that was responsible for hundreds of of gruesome murders. Pope discusses problems with the judiciary that this release makes manifest. It seems inconceivable that after ten years, the Hizbullah cases still haven’t been resolved. I remember at the time reading that, not only had the bodies been buried in the back yards of Hizbullah houses, but members had videotaped the torture and murder of their victims. Now they’re being released because the courts couldn’t get their act together.

Yet, as Pope points out, the courts are right on the ball with speedy convictions for people who criticize the government or Ataturk, journalists who write about Kurds, Kurdish children that throw rocks, students that demonstrate, websites that offend someone. The courts not only act speedily, but also hand down enormously long sentences. (click here for Pope’s full essay. Excerpt is below.) Click here for another essay on Turkey’s problematic detention practices that fill jails needlessly and then require mass releases to make room. With either conviction or detention practices, justice is not done.

Lawyers frequently complain that overloaded courts operate at a snail’s pace. The problem is a perennial one that pre-dates the arrival in power of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). But this government chose to put “justice” as well as “development” at the center of its agenda, and it has so far not succeeded in balancing the scales of justice.

The revised Article 102 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), which has just come into effect and has led to the release of jailed defendants whose appeals are still pending after 10 years, is only the latest in a long list of polemics focused on the judiciary. Several of the men released were members of Hizbullah, an organization involved in particularly gruesome murders in the late 1990s.

Justice delayed is justice denied, whatever crime has been alleged or committed. The European Court of Human Rights has, on several occasions, criticized Turkey for violating the rights of suspects, kept in jail for lengthy periods pending the conclusion of their cases. If a final verdict cannot be reached within a decade, the problem is serious, it is systemic and it needs to be address urgently, without putting the public at risk…

But while a backlog is slowing the wheels of justice, are resources allocated properly? Courts still seem to have time to devote to procedures that alarm defenders of human rights and freedom of expression. Some of the verdicts reached cast a shadow over the government’s democratization plans.

Be careful when you engage in light banter at the barber’s: a businessman has just received a suspended sentence of 442 days for making off-the-cuff remarks about Constitutional Court justices, who were at the time examining the closure case against AK Party, while having his hair cut in 2008. Was the prosecutor who overheard his views thinking about the best use of limited judicial resources when he ordered the investigation that resulted in his trial?

And what about the recent 138-year sentence imposed on a Kurdish editor or even heavier ones handed down to other Kurdish journalists in recent months? The government frequently reiterated its intention to solve the Kurdish problem, whose many dimensions are finally debated publicly. Yet alternative views are still condemned under anti-terror legislation. In fact, according to Bianet, the number of defendants tried under anti-terror laws quintupled last year.

The ban on YouTube has been lifted, but thousands of websites are still banned, access to them denied by courts that also ate up a slice of the justice budget while reaching their verdict. Politicians routinely add to the load when they file complaints against opponents or journalists deemed too critical…

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