(CN) — One of more than 2,735 judges and prosecutors purged as Turkey declared a state of emergency, ex-jurist Hakan Baş jailed for over a year without trial prevailed Tuesday before the European Court of Human Rights.
In addition to ruling that the Turkish government violated Baş’ right to liberty and security, the court said it lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him in the first place.
“Given the prominent place that the judiciary occupies among state organs in a democratic society and the growing importance attached to the separation of powers and to the necessity of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary … the court must be particularly attentive to the protection of members of the judiciary when reviewing the manner in which a detention order was implemented from the standpoint of the provisions of the convention,” the 82-page opinion from the rights court emphasizes.
The Turkish government declared its state of emergency on July 15, 2016, after a coup attempt that Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed on his former ally, Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim leader living in rural Pennsylvania.
Erdoğan branded Gülen’s followers the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) to justify an ensuing purge that swept perceived allies of the religious leader from the military, press, judiciary and law enforcement.
Gülen, who has described his religious movement as a voice of moderation, denies any connection to the 2016 coup attempt.
Four days after the coup attempt, authorities arrested Baş. It would be another 14 months before Bas was let out of detention to a trial that was already underway.
The Turkish court found him guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization, and sentenced him to seven and a half years in prison.
What the rights court based in Strasbourg, France, made clear Tuesday, however, was that Turkey lacked evidence to tie Baş to any group or attempted overthrow at the time of his detention.
“Although the decision clearly indicates the extent to which suspected members of FETÖ/PDY had infiltrated influential state institutions, in particular the judiciary, it does not contain any ‘facts’ or ‘information’ relating directly and personally to the applicant,” the seven-judge panel found, referring to a Turkish ruling under review. “He does not feature among the individuals mentioned as being the subject of disciplinary and criminal investigations in the decision, and his name does not appear at all.”
The rights court ruled unanimously for Baş on two of three counts, with a judge appointed to the court from Turkey dissenting on one of the counts.
Judge Arnfinn Bårdsen, from Norway, wrote separately to highlight the strain on judicial independence in Turkey.
“The arrest and pre-trial detention of judges will always trigger serious concerns as to the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law,” Bårdsen wrote in a 2-page concurring opinion. “This is even more so in the present case, which cannot be seen in isolation from the fact that in the days and weeks after the attempted coup in the night between 15 and 16 July 2016, a remarkably high number of judges were suspended from their duties, arrested and detained.”
Judge Saadet Yüksel, from Turkey, sought to justify it in a partial dissent.
Lifted on July 18, 2018, Turkey’s state of emergency has been denounced as Erdoğan’s effort to consolidate power and quash domestic dissent by exploiting the fear of Gülenists. The year the emergency was lifted, the Associated Press estimated that the Turkish government detained more than 160,000 people for questioning and formally arrested 77,000 for alleged terrorism links. A collective of exiled journalists called Turkey Purge has placed estimates higher.
Turkey’s press freedom rankings plummeted during this period, as the country ranked as the world’s leading jailer of journalists for three consecutive years. After revoking that state of emergency, Turkey’s position marginally improved last year as the globe’s second-worst incarcerator of the press, following China.