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Erdoğan appoints controversial figure as Turkey’s top prosecutor

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed a controversial judge at the Supreme Court of Appeals who was behind a recent crisis between the country’s top two courts as the appeals court’s chief prosecutor.

Erdoğan appointed Muhsin Şentürk as chief prosecutor among five candidates who ran for the position and received the highest number of votes in an election held on Monday.

Erdoğan’s decision was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday.

Şentürk, the head of the court’s 3rd Criminal Chamber, was the runner-up in the election, receiving 77 votes. He was preceded by Yaşar Şimşek, the head of the 5th Criminal Chamber, who garnered 86.

Muhsin Şentürk

Erdoğan appointed Şentürk despite the fact that he was the runner-up in the election. The three other candidates received fewer votes than Şentürk.

The Supreme Court of Appeals has 348 members.

Şentürk will replace Bekir Şahin, whose four-year term will expire on June 4.

Şentürk, known to be close to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is a controversial figure who, as head of the court’s 3rd Criminal Chamber, late last year and earlier this year refused to comply with two rulings from the Constitutional Court that found rights violations in the continued incarceration of opposition lawmaker Can Atalay, who gained parliamentary immunity with his election in May 2023.

Atalay remains in prison and stripped of his parliamentary status due to resistance from the Supreme Court of Appeals, which upheld his sentence in the politically motivated Gezi Park trial.

The court’s resistance to the Constitutional Court’s decisions on Atalay led to an unprecedented judicial crisis in Turkey which saw the filing of criminal complaints against members of the Constitutional Court by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

It has also raised concerns about the rule of law and the separation of powers in Turkey, with critics arguing that defiance of Constitutional Court’s decisions undermines democratic principles and legal certainty.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel on Thursday voiced his disappointment with the appointment of Şentürk, whom he described as the “symbol of the violation of the constitution,” referring to his stance in the Atalay case.

Özel said the appointment of Şentürk shows the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) insistence on violating the current constitution at a time when it’s talking about drafting a new constitution and refuses to comply with efforts at normalization that materialized following the March 31 local elections.

The AKP suffered the largest election defeat in its history on March 31, while the CHP emerged as the most successful party, holding on many big municipalities and winning in others, previously known as AKP strongholds.

Şentürk was actually hoping to become the court’s president, who was finally elected on Tuesday after a weeks-long delay. He withdrew his candidacy last week in favor of the court’s former president, Mehmet Akarca, reportedly upon a demand from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Akarca’s term in office expired on March 24.

The rounds of voting, which began on March 25, had to be repeated multiple times since none of the candidates managed to receive 175 votes, constituting a simple majority.

One of the candidates, Ömer Kerkez, who was not favored by President Erdoğan, was elected in the 37th round of voting, ending a weeks-long delay and speculation about the court’s new head.

The prolonged limbo in the election of the president of the Supreme Court of Appeals was said to be the result of a power struggle among followers of various political and religious groups within the court.

The Supreme Court of Appeals is the court of last instance for reviewing verdicts handed down by criminal and civil courts in Turkey.

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 the 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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