Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan has said that the rulings of his court are binding for everyone and every institution in Turkey. He clarified that the court’s decision did not reflect on the guilt or innocence of those charged, but only that the defendant’s rights had been violated through their pre-trial detention.
Erdoğan’s comments regarding the court’s decision made headlines throughout the country, drawing criticism from all of the major opposition parties. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), even went so far as to demand that Erdoğan withdraw his criticisms of the court as a precondition for reopening the commission to rewrite the constitution.
CHP Deputy Mahmut Tanal said during a press conference on Monday that, “If the president wants to preserve his legitimacy, he has to apologize to the public and the judiciary immediately.”
A Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy, Erkan Akçay, likewise criticized the president’s remarks, drawing attention towards the rule of law in the country: “You were elected according to this Constitution and you have to obey or respect this Constitution. If you don’t show this obedience and respect towards it, how can you complain about unlawful deeds, anarchy or terrorism?” he asked.
Arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül Violation of Rights
Turkey’s Constitutional Court General Assembly announced on February 25, its ruling on the arrest of Cumhuriyet daily Chief Editor Can Dündar and Ankara representative Erdem Gül in November this year, deciding that the imprisonment of the two was a rights violation. The decision was made by 12 votes to three in response to an appeal by Dündar and Gül to the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court declared that “freedom of press and expression, right to personal security have been violated, their imprisonment is unlawful”.
President Erdoğan personally filed the charges after the release of footage by Cumhuriyet on May 29 2015, reportedly showing MIT trucks transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria. Erdoğan has requested a life-sentence for Dündar.
An investigation was immediately launched against Cumhuriyet; and the gendarmerie and prosecutors who stopped the trucks were also arrested. They face similar charges as Dündar and Gül, including treason, spying, espionage and terrorism.
The government initially claimed the trucks were carrying aid, however subsequent statements from President Erdoğan indicated a tacit acceptance of Cumhuriyet’s accusations.
Today’s Zaman, a pro-Gülen newspaper, reported Erdoğan asking a group of teachers: “You know of the treason regarding the MİT trucks, don’t you? So what if there were weapons in them? I believe that our people will not forgive those who sabotaged this support.”
This decision was welcomed by various domestic and international human rights and press freedom organizations which have been campaigning against the arrests, as well as general deteriorations in civil liberties in Turkey.
In 2015, Turkey was ranked 149 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Journalists and academics have come under increasing pressure of late and Turkey recently topped the ECHRs list on freedom of expression violations.