Res Ipsa Loquitur
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Turkish opposition politicians and bar associations launched protests and legal actions across the country over the weekend in response to a major constitutional crisis that has raised concerns about Turkey’s judicial system, Voice of America reported.
On Friday, hundreds of lawyers from across Turkey marched to the country’s Supreme Court of Appeals in response to the court’s refusal to comply with a ruling from the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court.
The crisis began late last month when a majority of judges in that court ruled in favor of releasing jailed opposition lawmaker Can Atalay.
Atalay has been held in custody since last year when a local court charged him with “assisting the overthrow of the government” during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 in Istanbul – the largest demonstrations against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently Turkey’s president.
Atalay’s lawyers took the case to the Constitutional Court, with nine of 15 judges ruling that the lawmaker’s imprisonment breached his rights “to be elected” and “to have personal freedom and security.”
But the lower court that charged the legislator refused to comply with the verdict. It took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals (Court of Cassation), Turkey’s highest appeals court, and which responded Wednesday by filing a criminal complaint against the nine Constitutional Court judges.
The move immediately prompted anger from opposition parliamentarians, who called it a “judiciary coup attempt.” They added that the complaint was unconstitutional, citing the constitution’s relevant article that says judgments of the Constitutional Court shall be final.
Lawmakers have also refused to leave the legislature until the issue is brought to the floor for discussion by the speaker of parliament.
Meanwhile, hundreds of lawyers across the country held a series of demonstrations demanding “respect for the rule of law.” Some bar associations also filed criminal complaints against the Supreme Court of Appeals for its refusal to abide by the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Erdogan also inflamed the situation with comments that appeared to side with the lower court’s decision.
“Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court has come to a point where it has been making mistakes, one after another, in this regard,” he said.
Amid criticism, he issued another statement saying he was “not taking sides but rather acting as an arbitrator as the head of the state.”
However, some legal analysts questioned Erdogan’s stance, noting that the president “has a constitutional duty to ensure the constitution is abided by.” They cautioned that the crisis could feed into growing doubts among its Western allies about Turkey’s commitment to constitutional rule.