Turkish top court annuls headscarf law, deals a blow to ruling AKP

Turkey's Constitutional Court annulled the bill proposing to lift the headscarf ban saying it is an attempt to change nonamendable articles of the Turkish Constitution, the court said in a statement on Thursday. TV channels reported nine members of the court voted for the cancellation of the law and two voted against. The Chairman of the Court said the details of the decision will be included in the reasoning. The decision dealt a big blow to the government of the Islamist-rooted AKP, which is under pressure of a closure case. Turkey's army chief said everybody should respect court decisions. (UPDATED)

"The law of February 9th making constitutional amendments to lift a ban on headscarf at universities has been cancelled based on the constitution's articles no. 2, 4 and 148. The execution of the law has also been stopped", said the Constitution Court in a short statement on Thursday.        

Nine members voted in favor of the cancellation of the law and two voted against, including court chairman Hasim Kilic, TV channels and state-run Anatolian Agency reported.


The Court decided to announce its decision in a short statement in order to end the speculations, and the details of the ruling will be included in the reasoning, Kilic said Thursday. He added the reasoning will be released "as soon as possible."


"The speculations made on our Court in the recent months saddened us and therefore we decided to announce the ruling in such way... So we are not going to give any information on the details of the ruling until the reasoning released because of speculations about our members," he told reporters after leaving the court.


Kilic declined to comment possible fallout of the headscarf decision on the closure case against the ruling AKP.

The case is seen as a proxy in the closure case filed against the ruling AKP in March in which the chief prosecutor cited this law as an evidence to close down the party. 

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Article 2 of the constitution describes Turkey as a "secular and democratic Republic," and Article 4 says the first three articles cannot be amended or even proposed to be amended. Article 148 defines the mandate of the Constitutional Court.

The law of February 9th amended articles 10 (equality before law) and 42 (right and duty of training and education) of the Constitution.Turkey's ruling AKP, with the backing of the nationalist MHP, had passed the bill amending the constitution to lift the headscarf ban in universities in February. Public opinion is divided over the issue and the main opposition CHP and the leftist DSP had challenged the bill in the Constitutional Court


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The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, said this is a legal process and he does not want to make further comments, CNNTurk quoted him as saying.

Turkey's Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukanit called everybody to respect the legal decision. "All of us should respect the legal decisions. Turkey is a secular, democratic, social state of law. You cannot interpret those (values). This (ruling) is not an interpretation, but an expression of obvious," he told reporters in Istanbul.

Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesman Cemil Cicek said, "We need to see the legal ground for the decision taken," as the first reaction from the government, Turkey's TV channels reported.

ANKA news agency said AKP's high decision making body held an emergency meeting on Thursday night. No statement was made after the meeting.

The deputy leader of the AKP parliamentary group said the court violated the constitution with this ruling. "This decision opens the way of controlling every constitutional amendment that the parliament would want to make," Bekir Bozdag said in a televised statement.

Bozdag declined to comment on the possible fallout of the ruling on the closure case against the AKP, adding that both legal cases are unique.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said the decision is not a legal, but a politically motivated one and that it would increase the division on the basis of religious belief in Turkey.

The main opposition CHP welcomed the court's decision. CHP leader Deniz Baykal said the ruling means that constitutional amendments could be analyzed in essence, not just procedurally, if it threatens to violate nonamendable articles of the constitution. Baykal added that the Constitutional Court decision was an important practice of Turkish law.


"I believe those who govern Turkey are obliged to act with the responsibility of not violating the constitution," Baykal said.


"Unfortunately, this principle has been violated numerous times recently and the issue was brought before the court," he said, adding that he hoped Turkey would be governed peacefully and with an understanding that would absorb the Turkish Constitution.


Onur Oymen, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Republican People Party, said the verdict spelled the end to such amendments.


"From now on, no one will be able to attempt to change the constitution," Oymen told NTV television.

"This decision reminds the ruling party what it can and cannot do despite gaining 47 percent of the vote (in the July 22 elections)," Husamettin Cindoruk, former parliamentary speaker, told NTV television. "This decision has set the boundaries and reshaped the state."


Legal experts are divided over the ruling. Some say according to the Turkish Constitution the court can only examine whether the passage of a constitutional amendment was procedurally flawed, it could not pass judgment on its essence.


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