Turkish deputy prime minister urges release of jailed deputies



Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Ar?nç
The Turkish deputy prime minister has urged the release of jailed deputies who are currently under arrest on coup charges, claiming that recent court verdicts to release suspects should set a precedent.
Bülent Ar?nç, commenting on the release of all jailed suspects in the Deniz Feneri charity probe, said he hopes the decision to release the suspects in the charity probe sets a precedent for judges overseeing other cases. “I believe with my heart that other courts, committees or judges will probably start issuing decision to release [others],” Ar?nç told reporters on Wednesday.
Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel also voiced similar remarks while commenting on the Sledgehammer probe, in which he recalled “a concern” that is frequently voiced among various state circles and by the public regarding long detention periods. In Turkey, most inmates spend a great deal of time in prison without ever having been convicted due to lengthy trials and appeals in courts as well as legal regulations that allow for lengthy detention periods before possible conviction. According to Turkish law, an inmate is considered to be under arrest until a verdict is approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Only after the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which combines the functions of a court of cassation and an appeals court, can the inmate under arrest actually be convicted. Contrary to regulations in most European countries, in Turkey during the period between the local court’s verdict being issued and the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals the defendant is also under arrest. The Turkish judiciary has come under fire from both the Turkish opposition and the West as the trials of jailed Sledgehammer suspects have taken years.

In Turkey, a case can take around five years on average and there are many cases that have been pending for decades. This situation creates many problems with regard to human rights, especially if a suspect is eventually found innocent after a long period under arrest.

As of early 2011, there were approximately 57,000 inmates in prisons awaiting a verdict or approval from the Supreme Court of Appeals. Among the suspects who are under arrest are deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Ar?nç said courts should start releasing jailed suspects as they did in other cases. “Otherwise, it cannot have an explanation,” he stressed.

The ?stanbul 13th High Criminal Court ruled in a hearing following the June 12 parliamentary elections with a majority of votes not to release two suspects in the Ergenekon case, Professor Mehmet Haberal and journalist Mustafa Balbay, who were elected deputies in the June 12 general elections, from prison. The court said the suspects may attempt to flee the country or obscure evidence related to the case if freed from prison. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal network charged with working to overthrow the government by instigating large-scale chaos in society.

Ar?nç underlined that this cannot be a concern with respect to a defendant who is also an elected deputy, adding that his conscience cannot accept the fact that a privilege granted to pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sebahat Tuncel is not granted to Balbay, Haberal and Ergenekon suspect Engin Alan, who was elected as a deputy for the MHP in June 12 parliamentary elections.

Tuncel, who was jailed for membership in the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was released after being elected as a deputy for Parliament in the previous elections in 2007. Observers say the court ruling on Tuncel might set a precedent for other suspects; however, Balbay and Haberal stand accused of different charges than those against Tuncel.

Article 83 of the Turkish Constitution, which governs parliamentary immunity, states: “A deputy who is accused of having committed a crime before or after the election cannot be prosecuted without the consent of Parliament, cannot be investigated and cannot be tried.” Deputies are immune to prosecution, except in cases when an investigation was launched before the deputies were elected.

Ar?nç stressed that a deputy should be in Parliament and that he believes a decision to release the Deniz Feneri charity probe suspects will set a precedent for all other similar cases. The deputy prime minister said lengthy jail periods are not right unless the defendant has been convicted, and added that the defendants in the charity probe were released in a very just decision so that the arrest did not become a form of punishment.

Former Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) head Zahit Akman and five other suspects were arrested in July on suspected links to a fraud case concerning German-based Turkish charity Deniz Feneri were released pending trial last Friday.

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