Legal community condemns Turkey

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Norway’s entire legal community, represented by professional organizations for the country’s judges, legal scholars and attorneys, has sent a letter to Foreign Minister Børge Brende expressing deep concern for their colleagues in Turkey. They’re asking Brende to consider sending a formal state complaint about the Turkish government’s political meddling in its own judiciary branch, to the European Court of Human Rights.

Jan 12, 2016, foreign ministers Børge Brende and Mevlut Cavusoglu

Foreign minister Børge Brende met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara just last month. He says he brought up Turkey’s violations of freedom of expression and the press, but didn’t win any assurances that the Turkish government would ease its crackdown, also on its own court system. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland Andersen

It would be the first time Norway has filed such a complaint, called a statsklage, in 34 years, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. The complaint would allow Norway to mount a case against Turkey at the court in Strasbourg, charging the country with human rights violations and with failing to respect its own court system.

“We believe it’s necessary to use strong means now, because due process in Turkey is under threat,” Ingjerd Thune, leader of the Norwegian judges’ organization Den norske dommerforening, told Aftenposten. “An  independent court system is a fundamental premise for a functioning democracy.” Norway’s branch of the international judiciary organization, Den internasjonale juristkommisjon, also supports the complaint.

Judges jailed for challenging president’s authority
Thune referred to how judges in Turkey have been imprisoned themselves for issuing rulings that defy or fail to support the policies of Turkey’s authoritarian president Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has also been accused of replacing independent judges with regime-friendly civil servants.

“There’s strong pressure on the judges as soon as political interests come into play,” Gerhard Reissner, former leader of the European judges’ association wrote to Aftenposten. He’s been an observer in court during the trial of two judges imprisoned for ruling in favour of plaintiffs who charged Erdogan and his closest colleagues with corruption in 2013.

Erdogan’s government responded by arresting journalists covering the case and even police officers who were working on it. When the judges ordered that an editor and several police officers be released, they were arrested and imprisoned themselves.

Brende has said he is “worried about developments” in Turkey regarding judge’s independence. “We have received the letter (from Norway’s entire legal community) and will go through the issues and proposals that are raised,” Brende wrote in an email to Aftenposten. “They come in addition to challenges tied to freedom of expression and the press.”

Brende stressed that his ministy “regularly” brings up important questions of human rights up with Turkey. “I did the same as late as January in my talks in Ankara with the president and the foreign minister,” Brende wrote. “We will take this up again in our dialogue with Turkey.”

Turkey is currently under enormous pressure from terrorist attacks, the war in neighboring Syria and a huge influx of refugees. That can’t justify all the attempts to muzzle the press and undermine democracy, the Norwegian judges and attorneys contend.

Norway has only filed formal complaints against other governments on three occasions, against the military dictatorships in Greece in 1967 and 1970 and also against Turkey in 1982. Berglund