The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, on June 26 in an all-night parliamentary session passed legislation that, if approved by President Abdullah Gül, would curb powers of military courts. With the legislation, military personnel accused of crimes such as threats to national security, constitutional violations, connection with criminal organizations, and coup attempts in peacetime, would be prosecuted in civilian courts.
But the move drew criticism even though the debate about whether to prosecute former coup makers is currently on the agenda, and the Justice Ministry’s Draft Strategy for Judicial Reform has already been charged with redefining the authority of military courts within the framework of the democratic state of law.
"Prosecuting military personnel in civilian courts is an issue that [we] have supported for years. However, the government, when the issue was up in the air, when the allegations against the colonel were being debated, without asking universities or bars, passed the legislation without allowing it to be debated by parties. We are against this," said Özdemir Özok, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations.
The legislation came amid tensions over alleged military plans to remove the AKP government from rule. Navy Col. Dursun Çiçek, who allegedly signed the plan, was arrested by a civilian court Wednesday after he was questioned by the prosecutors running the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, in which an alleged gang is accused of aiming to topple the government as well. The arrest came after a military prosecutor decided there was not enough evidence to accuse Çiçek of writing the plans. Çiçek was released after 19 hours.
"The government is not sincere and does not have a dependable attitude in this case," said Özok, adding that none of the issues about military courts are barred from discussion.
Çiğdem Nas, the deputy general secretary of the Economic Development Foundation, also highlighted the political conditions in which the legislation passed. "Amid criticism that Ğ especially in the Ergenekon case Ğ the Code of Criminal Procedures was breached, handling judicial reform selectively might lead to misunderstandings," she said.
Along with not prosecuting civilians in military courts and redrawing the jurisdiction of the courts in accordance with EU standards, judicial reform includes other issues such as long prosecutions and the effectiveness of the judiciary, Nas said. "While the government remains silent on other issues, rapidly passing legislation on military courts through Parliament can lead to doubt that the judicial reforms were made for political purposes," she said.
But the ruling AKP has an electorate and like every ruling party, it is natural to make moves that would make the electorate happy, said Şemnem Karauçak, head of the Eurohorizons Consulting and Communication Company. "However, what is critical is that they should be parallel to the EU process. They put weight on issues that are important for them. It is not hard to understand, but only if they do not neglect other issues," she said.
Bekir Bozdağ, deputy head of the AKP’s parliamentary group, responded to the criticism, saying no one has objected to the content of the legislation. "Are these laws passed for the AK Party? All these laws are written for Turkey, for enhancing Turkey’s democracy," he said, adding that the legislation aimed to make progress in the EU reform process and that it was also in the National Program.
Bozdağ also said that debating priorities was a sign of bad intentions. "This is shooting in the dark. If the AK Party passes more legislation, this time it would be questioned. We are sincere in the EU process," he said. "Since we came to power, for democratization, strengthening the state of law and for full membership to the EU, we have been working very sincerely. Searching for bad intentions is a sign of bad intention in those who are looking for them."
But Mehmet Altan, chief columnist of daily Star, said the latest incident about the alleged plan to topple the AKP government showed the AKP that it couldn’t rule without the EU. Criticizing the AKP for slowing down the EU reform process, Altan said the party thought that it came to power and that there was no need for the EU anymore.
Industrialist Meral Gezgin Eriş said she assumes that the AKP is sincere if they pass the legislation. "I do not have any data to think that they are insincere," she said.