US State Dept concerned about Turkish legal system

The US State Department has implicitly criticised a proposal by the Turkish government, which aims for tighter control over the judiciary by restructuring the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), saying that the US supports Turkish nation’s wish for a legal system where no one is above the law and where allegations against public figures are investigated impartially.

On Thursday, American journalists asked State Department Spokesperson, Jen Psaki what views the US held about developments in Turkey, particularly the dismissal of police officers, the HYSK proposal and tight control over the Internet.

“In our conversations with all stakeholders in Turkey, we continue to make clear that the United States supports the desire of the Turkish people for a legal system that meets the highest standards of fairness, timeliness, and transparency in civil and criminal matters, where no one is above the law and where allegations against public figures are investigated impartially,” said Psaki.

“You are familiar with our view on freedom of speech and freedom of media, which we’ve expressed as needed and express annually in our report as well. And we’re certainly communicating that directly to the government,” she added.

Psaki confirmed that the US message was being conveyed at ground level.

The HSYK is the body responsible for appointments in the judiciary. The newly proposed bill allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

Also, the HSYK will be made up of two separate bodies: One will include an 11-member board of judges while the other will be made up of a seven-member board of prosecutors. If adopted, the bill will allow Parliament and the justice minister to have more say in the election of members of both of the HSYK bodies.

The new draft bill states that the board will no longer have the authority to pass decrees and circulars. Instead, the justice minister will be entitled to pass decrees and circulars on behalf of the HSYK. Furthermore, the board will be stripped of its authority to decide to launch investigations into HSYK members. This authority will again be passed to the justice minister.

Psaki reiterated that Turkey is and remains a key US ally, adding, “We’ve expressed our concerns about some of the events that are happening on the ground directly, publicly and privately, and we’ll continue to do that.”

She stressed that the US continues to work closely with Turkey and has expressed concerns about domestic issues as it sees fit.

She also said that she would not make a prediction about Turkey’s reliability. “As you know, Turkey will be participating in a range of discussions about Syria and the crisis in Syria. They’re obviously an important partner on that. We work with them on other issues,” she added.

When asked if the US believes that Prime Minister Erdogan respected democracy, having dismissed members of the judiciary and jailed over 1,000 journalists, Psaki said:

“Well, I will say that when we have concerns about his actions, we express those. And that’s something I have just done today.”

The EU Commission has also expressed its concerns about the recent developments in Turkey.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks voiced criticism against the HSYK proposal in a tweet on Tuesday. He said proposals to curb the powers of the HSYK represent a “serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey.”

“The removal of a large number of police officers from their posts … is a matter of concern,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said on Wednesday. “We urge Turkey … to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner.”

Recent draconian measures taken by the AKP led government, that are diminishing the independence of the Turkish judiciary, are causes for concern in the EU as Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005.

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