Turkey's independent courts

Published 30.10.2017 20:21

A week ago, eight detained suspects, including German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swedish citizen Ali Gharavi, were released after trial in Turkey, leaving no detained defendants in the case publicly known as the Büyükada Case that had preoccupied the EU's agenda. Steudtner and Gharavi have returned to their countries. The prosecutor's office demanded the release of the other six defendants, resulting in the release of all eight. Everything seemed normal up to this point. Just as in every other lawful state, the defendants detained as part of an investigation launched by Turkish security units were released after trial. The same procedure is applied to all other detained defendants in Turkey. No matter their nationality, all are equal before the court.

Public opinion was solid regarding Steudtner. Many German journalists, diplomats and politicians proclaimed his innocence. However, I have always believed that the results of an investigation and trial factor into an educated opinion, and I turned out to be right. I cannot comment on whether the decision is right or wrong. As a politician who once acted as a representative in domestic politics at European Parliament and a budget rapporteur for European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), I am always loyal to the rule of not publicly commenting on ongoing investigations and cases. For me, respecting the courts' decisions is an integral part of a law-based state. If there is doubt surrounding the decision, it is always possible to appeal one's case in the judicial system.

Steudtner's release delighted many people in Germany. Now, I hope they can see that Turkish courts issue their decisions independently. Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's statements on the subject have been greatly misinformed. Gabriel claimed that Steudtner was released due to special efforts from former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. In my opinion, Gabriel attempted to abuse the Steudtner incident in order to restore his unsuccessful trajectory, which is a shame.

In an interview I gave to Der Spiegel months ago, I said the most suitable mediator for the crisis between Turkey and Germany would be Schröder and, today, I am still of the same opinion. Schröder is a beloved and respected figure in Turkey. As a former chancellor, he is aware of the value of Turkish-German relations. He might have spoken to his friends in Turkey regarding Steudtner, which is a natural right, and I am sure in such a case they would listen to him with respect and express their own approach to the issue. I am also sure that they would definitely tell him that the courts pass verdicts independently.

If Gabriel was right, his statement would still be clumsy and wrong. If the German defendants in Turkey were really released upon Schröder's wish, Schröder would have continued his efforts for all the other German citizens detained in the country. Gabriel would have deciphered this secret in his statement. In brief, it is evident that Gabriel has no plausibility. On the same day that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan heavily criticized the defendants of the Büyükada case in a speech during the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting, the court released them. If the claims alleging that Turkish court decisions are influenced by politics were true, the results would have been different. Gabriel must listen to the diplomats that understand Turkey and learn the truth from them.

The EU, European Parliament, national parliaments and governments of EU countries should try to get to know Turkey instead of approaching it with biases. This latest case demonstrated how independently Turkish courts operate. I must admit that I am sometimes surprised by the court decisions in Turkey for this reason. However, this happens in any law-based state, including Germany, Belgium and all the others.

Therefore, I suggest that our European friends respect Turkey's judicial system. Decisions from independent courts might delight or disappoint some groups. This is how law-abiding systems work, and Turkey is unquestionably one of them.

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