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Prominent jurist faces criminal complaints due to remarks about judicial crisis

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Members of Turkey’s top appeals court have filed criminal complaints against a prominent law professor due to his remarks about a recent crisis involving the country’s two top courts regarding the case of a jailed lawmaker, the pro-government Sabah daily reported.

Professor İzzet Özgenç, a former advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on judicial affairs, is facing complaints from members of the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals who earlier this month defied a ruling from the Constitutional Court about jailed opposition lawmaker Can Atalay.

The members of the appeals court filed their complaints at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday, accusing the academic of “targeting public officials involved in the fight against terrorism,” “slander,” “insult” and “obstruction of justice.”

The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Atalay, saying his rights were violated due to his continued incarceration despite acquiring parliamentary immunity, but the Supreme Court of Appeals defied this decision, sparking widespread criticism and accusations of a judicial coup.

The Supreme Court of Appeals also filed criminal complaints against the members of the Constitutional Court due to their ruling for Atalay.

Özgenç expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court of Appeals’ move in a letter to Erdoğan he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In his letter he complained to Erdoğan that he has been deprived of the ability to express his views about the problems in the judiciary and advise him on these matters due to the “jackals” who pretend to be jurists.

The professor called on Erdoğan to ensure the functioning of the state organs with harmony, a duty given to the president by the constitution.

Unlike Özgenç, Erdoğan sided with the appeals court in the crisis over Atalay and signaled that his government may press ahead with changes to limit the power of the Constitutional Court. He accused the top court of repeatedly making mistakes.

Atalay, who is at the center of the crisis, was elected to parliament while serving a sentence for his alleged role in the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013. Jailed businessman Osman Kavala was the most prominent defendant in the same trial and was given a life sentence.

Since Atalay was not released from prison despite acquiring parliamentary immunity, he applied to the Constitutional Court in July claiming that he has been subjected to several rights violations due to his continued incarceration.

The top court ruled in October that Turkey violated Article 67 of the Turkish Constitution, which concerns one’s right to elect, stand for election and engage in political activities, as well as Article 19, which concerns the right to liberty and security.

Atalay was not released from prison despite the top court’s decision, with a lower court referring the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals, which upheld his 18-year conviction in September.

In a move that triggered a significant backlash, protests and accusations of a judicial coup, the Supreme Court of Appeals made its controversial decision against the release of the lawmaker in addition to filing criminal complaints against top court judges.

The Turkish judiciary faces widespread criticism for its perceived lack of independence. Critics accuse Erdoğan of exerting control over the judiciary and establishing one-man rule in the country, particularly after a coup attempt in 2016, following which he launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens and the country’s subsequent transition to a presidential system of governance, which granted him vast powers.

Many say there is no longer a separation of powers in the country and that members of the judiciary are under the control of the government and cannot make judgments based on law.

In a development that validated the critics, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October, dropping one rank in comparison to last year.

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