Tags: turkey | politics | judiciary

Lawmakers Brawl as Turkey Tightens Grip on Judiciary

Saturday, 15 February 2014 09:23 AM EST

ANKARA, Turkey  — Turkey's parliament passed a contested bill Saturday tightening the government's grip on the judiciary, sparking a fist-fight that left one lawmaker with a broken nose.

Fighting erupted between ruling party and opposition lawmakers as the bill — tabled as the government grapples with a major graft scandal — was debated in a marathon 20-hour sitting.

Ali Ihsan Kokturk, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was hospitalized with a broken nose after the brawl, while ruling party lawmaker Bayram Ozcelik's finger was broken.

The opposition says the reform is a "government maneuver" to limit fallout from a graft probe that has ensnared top allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The law is an apparent indicator of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) attempt to cover the corruption investigation by redesigning the judiciary," CHP lawmaker Aykan Erdemir told AFP.

Parliament resumed debate of the bill Friday despite an uproar from opposition parties and the international community who warned it threatened the independence of the judiciary in the European Union hopeful country.

The reform package gives the justice ministry greater sway over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary.

It would change the make-up of the HSYK and give the justice minister the right to launch investigations into its members.

The measures were passed on Saturday morning with 210 votes in favor and 28 against.

CHP lawmaker Riza Turmen said his party would challenge the law, which still needs the president's signature to come into force, before the Constitutional Court.

"The law is against the general spirit of the constitution that guarantees judicial independence," he told AFP after the vote.

"HSYK is key to judicial independence. An independent judiciary is only possible with an independent HSYK."

Last month, President Abdullah Gul stepped in to resolve the deadlock by pushing for the judicial reforms to be passed as constitutional amendments, which would require cross-party support.

But the president's initiative failed after disagreements between ruling and opposition party lawmakers.

The bill had been suspended since January after widespread opposition, with lawmakers coming to blows during tense sessions in the parliament but Erdogan said it was "out of the question" that it would be withdrawn completely.

The European Union, along with rights groups and the opposition had warned that the measures could threaten the independence of state institutions and undermine democracy.

The reforms come with Turkey in political turmoil over the graft scandal that involves alleged bribery for construction projects as well as illegal trade with sanctions-hit Iran.

The inquiry into the allegations, launched on December 17, marks the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan's 11-year rule ahead of March local elections as it has implicated his inner circle including his own son.

A lawyer of Erdogan's son Bilal acknowledged for the first time on Friday that his client had testified on Feb. 5 regarding his alleged involvement in corruption, rejecting the accusations as "mere allegations."

The Turkish strongman says the probe has been instigated by political rivals, including powerful U.S.-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen whose associates hold key positions in the police and the judiciary.

Erdogan has embarked on a series of retaliatory measures against the police, prosecution service and judiciary which he believes is using the probe to undermine him, sacking thousands of police and prosecutors.

"Were the steps taken on Dec. 17 sincere? With which evidence, with which documents were they taken?" Erdogan reiterated during a Saturday rally.

"Everything was a scenario, with its actors and actresses," he said.

After more than a decade in power, Erdogan, who weathered mass street protests in June, stands accused of introducing increasingly authoritarian policies.

Turkey's parliament triggered a storm of protest at home and abroad last week after it approved restrictions to the Internet seen by opponents as a government attempt to prevent evidence of high-level corruption from being leaked online.

© AFP 2024

Turkey's parliament passed a contested bill Saturday tightening the government's grip on the judiciary, sparking a fist-fight that left one lawmaker with a broken nose.
Saturday, 15 February 2014 09:23 AM
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