Turkey: Lawyer Veysel Ok is sentenced for criticising independence of judiciary

Protection 3 min read
ARTICLE 19

ARTICLE 19 has condemned the sentencing of lawyer Veysel Ok for comments made in a 2015 interview. Ok told journalist Cihan Acar that the decisions coming out of the Turkish courts were all the same, implying that the judiciary was not independent.

Ok and Acar were today given a five-month suspended sentence for insulting the judiciary, which is a crime under the Turkish Criminal Code Article 301. 

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia programmes at ARTICLE 19 said:

The concerns raised by Veysel Ok have been echoed by lawyers, journalists and human rights activists around the world.  Since Ok made his comments, the independence of the judiciary in Turkey has been completely undermined by the dismissal of over 4,200 judges and prosecutors over the last three years. 

The conviction itself serves as yet further evidence that Turkey’s justice system continues to be politicised and weaponised by the Turkish authorities to silence dissent and criticism.

Even though Ok and Acar’s sentences are suspended, they will still contribute to the chilling of free speech in Turkey.”

Following the failed coup attempt in 2016 and the subsequent mass dismissal of judges, the Venice Commission said that “judges represent a special category of public servants” whose dismissal should be subject to “particularly exacting scrutiny” due to the chilling effect within the judiciary. Furthermore, iIn March 2017, the Venice Commission said that proposed changes to the composition of the body that oversees judicial appointments and dismissals, introduced through the constitutional referendum in April 2017,  placed “the independence of the judiciary in serious jeopardy.” 

In a joint submission for Turkey’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in August, ARTICLE 19 highlighted the erosion of the rule of law and the ineffectiveness of domestic remedies in Turkey, which is linked to the lack of independence of the judiciary. It highlighted the mass dismissal of judges and prosecutors and effective purging of anyone who is perceived as opposing the government through the exercise of freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 is this week taking part in an international press freedom mission of eight international free expression organisations to Turkey. A statement of findings will be published tomorrow, Friday 12 September at 1pm Ankara time. 

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