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Legislation gives the government more control over how judges are appointed amid violent scuffles between legislators.
Last updated: 15 Feb 2014 15:34
|Turkey’s parliament has passed a bill tightening government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, with legislators violently scuffling over the contested reforms introduced amid a majorcorruption scandal.The bill would give the Justice Ministry greater sway over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary. The legislation approved on Saturday also gives the justice minister the right to launch investigations into its members.
The opposition says that the reform package is a “government manoeuvre” to limit fallout from a graft investigation that has ensnared top allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The law is an apparent indicator of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s [AKP] attempt to cover the corruption investigation by redesigning the judiciary,” CHP legislator Aykan Aydemir told AFP news agency.
The measures were passed on Saturday morning with 210 votes in favour and 28 against.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Ozcan Yeniceri criticised the bill, saying it was aimed at “meeting the needs of the AK Party” to delay the graft investigation in which dozens of prominent business people, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and state officials were questioned.
Parliament resumed debate of the bill on Friday despite an uproar from opposition parties and the international community who warned it threatened the independence of the judiciary in the country, which hopes to join the European Union.
Ilter Turan, political analyst at Bilgi University, told Al Jazeera that the bill is bound to generate criticism both locally and internationally.
“The Turkish prime minister promised the European Union to observe the rules of the EU as regards to democratic practises. So this is bound to generate negative responses among the opposition domestically and will put Turkey in a difficult position internationally,” said Turan.
Fighting erupted with fists flying in the air between ruling party and opposition legislators as the bill was debated overnight into Saturday in a marathon 20-hour sitting.
Ali Ihsan Kokturk, legislator from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), got a bloodied nose in the brawl, while ruling party legislator Bayram Ozcelik’s finger was broken.
CHP had said on Thursday it would appeal the bill in the Constitutional Court if it was approved in parliament.
The battle for control of the HSYK, the body which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdogan and US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen, who is said to have millions of followers, has built up influence in the police and judiciary over decades. Erdogan blames him for unleashing the corruption investigation, which he sees as a way of unseating him.
Reporters Without Borders said the aim of the amendments were “to reinforce cyber-censorship” [Reuters]
|Turkey’s parliament has adopted a new Internet bill roundly criticised as an assault by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on freedom of expression, access to information and investigative journalism.
After hours of debate, the measures were adopted late on Wednesday where Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominates with 319 of the 550 seats.
The text notably permits a government agency, the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB), to block access to websites without court authorisation, if they are deemed to violate privacy or with content seen as “insulting”.
The legislation would also force Internet providers to keep records on Web users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities when requested, without notifying the users.
The measures are part of a package of legislation, the rest of which is expected to be approved by Parliament on Thursday and then signed into law by President Abdullah Gul.
Under that existing legislation signed in 2007, websites including blogging tool WordPress and video-sharing services DailyMotion and Vimeo have been blocked temporarily by court orders, while YouTube was off limits for two years until 2010.
Some alternative news websites cannot be accessed and people have been fined, jailed or given suspended sentences – like world-renowned pianist Fazil Say in 2013 – for tweets insulting religious values.
The proposals come amid parallel moves by Erdogan to push through contentious judicial reforms as he fights to keep the lid on a deeply damaging corruption probe entangling some of his closest allies.
At the start of the debate on Wednesday, opposition lawmaker Hasan Oren had harsh words, comparing Erdogan to Hitler. “When you came to power you talked of enhancing democracy in Turkey, now you are trying to implement fascism,” Oren said.
Reporters Without Borders said the aim of the amendments were “to reinforce cyber-censorship, government control of the Internet and surveillance”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called it a “slide into Internet authoritarianism” in a country that is the “the leading jailer of journalists worldwide“.
Even Turkey’s Industry and Business Association was critical, saying the proposals “conflict with the principles of checks and balances” and would increase censorship and deter investors.