Turkey’s new scandal involves High Courts, gives opposition an easy target

Opposition parties, experts and bar associations accused Turkey’s Supreme Court of Cassation of staging a judicial coup attempt, after it filed a criminal complaint against members of the Turkish Constitutional Court for ordering the release of Can Atalay, a jailed Workers’ Party of Turkey, TIP MP.


“This is a coup attempt, “ Ozgur Ozel, the president of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, told a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday. Ozel called on citizens to object to the move.


“The Constitutional Court has exceeded its authority,” the Court of Cassation wrote in its ruling on Wednesday, HaberTurk TV channel reported.


According to the Turkish constitution, the Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country and its decisions are final. There is no right to appeal, though the other two High Courts namely Court of Cassation and High Appellate Court have never been comfortable with this interpretation of the Constitution.


The Court of Cassation also did not comply with the Constitutional Court’s ruling ordering the immediate release of Atalay. Instead, it instructed the Office of Speaker of the Parliament to begin the process of revoking Atalay’s lawmaker status.

A brief history of the clash


Turkey’s top court ruled on October 25 that the “right to vote and be elected” and the “right to personal liberty and security” had been violated in the case of the imprisoned MP.


Since then, his lawyers and supporters have awaited his release, but there has been no such move by the lower court in Istanbul, sparking protests in front of the courthouse.


“It is a clear coup attempt for any authority to declare ‘We do not recognize the constitution and the Constitutional Court’, and to file a criminal complaint against the members of the Constitutional Court for a decision they took in accordance with the constitution and the law,” Erkan Bas, President of the TIP said on Wednesday.

Opposition, NGOs cry “coup”

The Union of Turkish Bar Associations also described the Court of Cassation’s decision as a judicial coup. “The decision consists of an effort to virtually eliminate the Constitutional Court by ignoring the constitution,” it said.


Lawyers and experts say the Constitutional Court explicitly emphasized that the first-instance court in Istanbul must immediately issue a release order. However, the court did not release Atalay and instead referred his case to the Court of Cassation.


Atalay has been in prison for more than a year. He was jailed for 18 years for his role in the so-called Gezi Park protests of 2013. The government classified the protests, the first nationwide uprising against President Erdogan’s rule, as an attempted coup.


Atalay was convicted in April 2022 in a trial that also saw the philanthropist and human rights activist Osman Kavala sentenced to life in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow Erdogan’s government.


Atalay was elected as an MP in the May 14 elections. His status as a legislator was approved by the Supreme Election Council and parliament.


The row coincided with the European Commission’s release of its annual report on Turkey’s long-stalled EU membership bid, criticising its “serious backsliding” on democratic standards, the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.


Erdogan chief adviser Mehmet Ucum defended the Yargitay move.

Controversy likely to  hurt relations with EU and Council of Europe


“The Constitutional Court continues to make unconstitutional decisions,” he said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, arguing that its decisions regarding the parliamentary immunity of convicted MPs were unconstitutional.


Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, voiced unease about the dispute.


“It opens an unprecedented institutional crisis and confirms all concerns about Turkish judiciary expressed for years by the Council of Europe and the European Union,” Amor said on X.


“The judicial clash comes at a time when the country is seeking to woo foreign investors after a U-turn in economic policy towards greater orthodoxy since May elections”, wrote Reuters.

It is not clear why Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Corut suddenly broke judicial decorum to attack each other through rulings. Court of Cassation is said to be firmly in the grip of Erdogan, while the Constituently Court, as is the case with countless other countries cherishes as independence and is believed to be more responsive to European Corut of Humna Rights.


One theory is that the clash is the manifestation of different factions within AKP, and MHP. Another claims Erdogan wants to intimidate the Constitutional Court, which has in the past stymied some of his   cherished legislation.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.