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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is drug smuggling a military offence?

Just when we thought we'd seen enough of him, he's back. Haşim Kılıç, head of Turkey's Constitutional Court, made another appearance in front of television cameras to announce a decision. We hadn't seen him for all of two months, when he announced the closure of the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

Their latest decision is to repeal a recent, controversial AK party amendment to the constitution that paved the way for Turkish military personnel to be tried in civilian courts. It was a groundbreaking decision at the time, representing an unprecedented foray into military matters by a Turkish government.Support for the amendment was far from universal, however, and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) immediately announced it was taking the change to the Constitutional Court. It is this CHP complaint that was resolved this evening.

The change boils down to one word in Turkish (my translations).

Original quotation: "...including a state of war or emergency, judgements relating to the duties of military tribunals remain reserved."

AK Party amendment: "...in the event of a state of war or emergency, judgements relating to the duties of military tribunals remain reserved."
The Constitutional Court this evening decided unanimously that "in the event of", which translates as one word ("halinde") in Turkish, should be struck off. But a majority - not a unanimity - took the further decision to scrap the words "state of war or emergency", which would leave us with:Constitutional Court version:
"...judgements relating to the duties of military tribunals remain reserved."
It's not clear this evening, but there are dozens of ongoing court cases that could be affected by this ruling, not least the investigation into the alleged would-be assassins of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.

CHP figures have welcomed the decision; AK ministers are more muted, but clearly disagree with it. Bekir Bozdağ, the head of AK's parliamentary group, was on NTV a moment ago asking: "is drug smuggling a military offence?" CHP spokesman Mustafa Özyürek said the law change was a rushed effort. "It was wrong," he said, "and now it has gone."

Rumours abound that this case will only serve to fast-track the AK government's plans for a new constitution. For the moment at least, it seems two separate legal systems will continue to run in parallel in Turkey.