Although the May 2023 elections brought Tayyip Erdoğan back to power as President and restored the AKP-MHP alliance’s control of the legislative majority, Erdoğan’s new administrative cadre, comprising “ministers” and other bureaucrats, has yet to exhibit any clear signs of improvement in the management of public affairs. This holds true for the most pressing matter of resolving the economic crisis; the appointments of Mehmet Şimşek as the new Treasury Minister and H. Gaye Erkan as the Governor of the Central Bank do not appear to have brought about significant changes in this regard.
Although Mehmet Şimşek promised to pursue “rational” economic and fiscal policies, it remains unclear to what extent – if any – Şimşek and his team will be able to act relatively independently of Erdoğan in the current state system where Erdoğan holds the sole authority as “President.” Similarly, the relatively reassuring performance of the new Governor of the Central Bank in his first public statement on July 27th, during the presentation of the latest Inflation Report, should also be evaluated within the context of the same uncertainty. Specifically, there is a widespread perception that Erdoğan pursued a strategy aimed at creating temporary optimism that the economy was on the path to recovery just before the local elections. One might even suspect that if the economy fails to improve significantly in the meantime, Erdoğan intends to blame the Simsek-Erkan duo and use them as scapegoats.
On the other hand, Turkey faces other critical issues besides the economy. Chief among them is the challenge of addressing and healing the deep suffering and wounds inflicted on hundreds of thousands of citizens due to the oppressive and persecutory policies of the AKP government, backed by the MHP. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need for Turkey to address these issues of “rights, law, and justice” promptly and to reform the legal and justice system in a way that prevents new injustices, both in its normative foundations and practice. However, certain developments make it difficult to be optimistic in this regard.
Firstly, President Erdoğan’s speech at the drawing of lots for new judges and prosecutors at the Presidential Palace on July 25 was, to say the least, “unfortunate” in terms of judicial independence and the other requirements of the rule of law. The fact that such a meeting took place in the Presidential Palace, representing the “executive” branch, raises doubts about the judiciary’s independence. Moreover, the President’s address to judges and prosecutors at this event was not a ceremonial or symbolic speech from an impartial president. In the current system of government in Turkey, the president is not impartial but is officially a party member. In this speech, the party member President made some “recommendations and suggestions” to the judges and prosecutors, which were essentially propaganda for his own political agenda. This development further undermines the expectations for the establishment of justice in our country.
On the other hand, a new direction in the Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence regarding violations of freedom of expression is rather disheartening for our society’s expectations of freedom, justice, and human rights. In fact, the Court has developed a new approach that almost renders certain violations of freedom of expression unnoticed. For further insight into this matter, you can refer to the assessment provided by our friend A. Rıza Çoban, an expert in this field.
Meanwhile, following the disappointing outcome in the May elections, criticism of the leadership of the CHP, which leads the opposition alliance, has intensified within the party. This criticism has been particularly reflected in media outlets close to the CHP, and a search for change seems to have reached a new stage with two significant developments. Firstly, as you will read in detail below, the CHP administration has terminated its relationship with Halk TV, which had been its biggest supporter in the media until now. More importantly, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, has indirectly hinted for the first time that he is a candidate for the CHP presidency. İmamoğlu recently had an article published on a media platform proposing a new organizational strategy and a definition of social democratic identity for the CHP.
These two developments indicate that the CHP will be heading into the local elections in the spring of 2024 amidst the turbulence of a leadership contest. It appears that the political tenure of the current President Kılıçdaroğlu will come to an end by the latest next spring.
See you, and we look forward to the next Freedom Observer.
* Prof. Dr. Mustafa Erdoğan
The Constitutional Court Found a Way to Dismiss Freedom of Expression Applications
Turkey’s freedom of expression problems continue to worsen with each passing day. Instead of identifying these problems and advocating for solutions, the Constitutional Court has been making decisions to overlook the issue. In this context, the Constitutional Court has been delaying applications alleging violations of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for an extended period. In 2022, the Constitutional Court issued a pilot decision by consolidating 19 applications, which had been pending for a long time. These applications were filed by individuals who were tried and sentenced for various crimes, but their verdict announcements (HAGB) were deferred, subjecting them to a five-year supervision period.
In the Atilla Yazar and others application, rather than examining the complaints on their merits, the General Assembly of the Court opted to issue a violation decision based on procedural grounds. The Court’s reasoning was that the appeal against the HAGB decision was solely reviewed in terms of the HAGB decision by the heavy penal courts, which act as the appeal authority, and the merits of the first-instance court decision were not assessed. The Court also nullified a provision of the Criminal Procedure Code related to another decision. Subsequently, Article 231, Paragraph 12 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was amended by Law No. 7445, dated 28/3/2023. The amendment stipulates that the appeal authority must review both the HAGB decision and the judgment. However, this amendment does not provide a solution for the applications previously submitted to the Constitutional Court.
This time, in 2023, the Constitutional Court decided to consolidate 610 applications filed between 2014 and 2021. The Court ruled on procedural violations without examining the merits of any of these applications and ordered the courts to conduct a retrial for all cases in question.
It should be noted that these decisions of the Court did not rectify the violations of the applicants’ rights. Instead of contributing to the resolution of the issues concerning freedom of expression, these decisions obscured the problems. Firstly, it is questionable whether the judgments can deliver individual justice for the applicants. For many of the applicants, the five-year supervision period has already lapsed, and the conviction has been expunged along with all its consequences. After this stage, a retrial for the same offense would not provide any legal benefits for the applicants. On the contrary, it will subject them to the status of accused once again. Furthermore, there is no clarity regarding which authority will conduct the retrial and the specific issues to be addressed during the retrial. The violation decision was issued based on the objection authority’s conduct. In such a scenario, it would be logical for the authority responsible for the violation to remedy it. However, the Constitutional Court sent its decision to the courts of first instance. The first instance courts, however, lack the means to address the procedural problem identified by the Constitutional Court. If, as a result of the retrial, the courts reaffirm the previous decision, it will lead to the absurd outcome of subjecting the applicants to a new review, and they may be compelled to submit an individual application to the Constitutional Court once again. This demonstrates that the Constitutional Court’s decision does not provide individual justice for the applicants.
Another problem with this decision is the granting of a single attorney’s fee for lawyers handling multiple applications within the 610 consolidated cases. For instance, if a lawyer submitted an application in 2014 for a client charged with insulting the president, in 2018 for another client facing charges of inciting hatred among the public, and in 2021 for another client accused of promoting a terrorist organization, the Constitutional Court will only award a single attorney’s fee for merging these applications. It is difficult to argue that this decision is fair and equitable.
Furthermore, the most significant issue lies in the fact that there was no examination of the substance of the applicants complaints, specifically concerning freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. This omission weakened the Constitutional Court’s status as an effective remedy for such violations.
The overall impact of these decisions is to obscure the serious issues surrounding freedom of expression in the country. Every year, hundreds of thousands of investigations and lawsuits are initiated, resulting in the punishment of tens of thousands of individuals for their actions falling within the ambit of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These actions include various crimes such as insulting the President, public officials, denigrating state institutions, praising crime and criminals, inciting hatred among the public, engaging in terrorist propaganda, and opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations.
Instead of addressing these problems and establishing clear criteria to determine which words and behaviors are protected under freedom of expression, the Constitutional Court veils the issues with decisions that do not even include the events that are the subject of the application, omit the names of the applicants from the text of the decision, and fail to publish the annexes containing the applicants information.
* Ali Rıza Çoban – Constitutional Lawyer
CHP-Halk TV Relationship Ends
Following the defeat in both May elections, discussions regarding the CHP have intensified. The CHP’s relationship with the opposition media has become a topic of debate, alongside internal opposition, preparations for the congress, and relations with other parties. CHP Deputy Chair Eren Erdem made a written statement announcing the unilateral termination of the agreement between the CHP and Halk TV, effectively ending their association. The statement mentioned that the termination was exercised within the framework of Article 6.3 of the protocol dated 01.01.2023 between the party and the television channel Halk TV, which is subject to the audit of the Constitutional Court (Court of Accounts).
In response to this announcement, the owner of Halk TV expressed respect for the CHP administration’s decision, stating that it is their natural right. The owner emphasized that Halk TV’s objective journalism is dedicated to its audience, and their high viewership rates and strong bond with the audience attest to this. Despite facing significant fines from RTÜK, they have never compromised on their commitment to objective journalism, advocating for modern Turkey, its founding values, the people, labor, and the truth. They pledged to continue adhering to this principle in their broadcasting, aiming not to be in favor of or against any political party or administration but to stand for the people and the truth.
We can say that the relationship between media organizations and political parties in Turkey is quite problematic. One of the reasons for Turkey’s low ranking in press freedom indices is the tendency of media organizations to maintain their existence through a network of political relations that are exempt from the dynamics of the market economy. This situation has been revealed with data in the report titled ‘Turkey’s Press Freedom Report 2022’ written by Prof. Dr. Burak Bilgehan Özpek for the Freedom Research Association. We can observe the ruling party providing financial incentives to media executives, which results in organizations aligned with the government transforming into propaganda vehicles. Simultaneously, the government endeavors to intimidate opposition media establishments through punitive measures.
The recent debate revolves around the connection between opposition parties and opposition media, a topic that has received relatively little attention in the media-politics discourse. It is worth mentioning that the relationship between the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Halk TV, despite limited information on its content, bears resemblance to the government’s association with partisan media. It appears that the CHP is dissatisfied with Halk TV’s broadcasting policies, despite its financial support through advertisements. This discontent could be attributed to the participation of numerous commentators who criticized the CHP administration in post-election programs, potentially influencing the party’s decision-making process.
It should be noted that the independence of media organizations is contingent on their freedom from the influence of not only the ruling party but also opposition parties. Media independence does not necessarily require an entirely impartial editorial policy, especially in market relations.
Unfortunately, in Turkey, media outlets appear to prioritize financial benefits from political actors over serving their viewers or readers as a source of income. Similarly, political actors seek to exploit media outlets as tools for propaganda.
Özpek, in the report published in January 2023, revealed the current state of the opposition media and its relationship with the CHP. The report stated, “Especially before the 2023 presidential elections, it has been observed that the opposition media has lost its impartiality and revised its editorial policy in favor of certain candidates within the opposition. With the possibility of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy strengthening, some news that could be detrimental to Ekrem İmamoğlu, one of the strongest candidates against him, were produced.”
* Ömer Faruk Şen – Ph.D. – Missouri University
The Central Bank Governor Has Finally been Introduced
Today, on July 27, 2023, Hafize Gaye Erkan, the Governor of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, introduced herself to the Turkish public by presenting the third Inflation Report. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey prepares and releases this report to the public four times a year. Prior to delving into the meeting’s details and the CBRT’s institutional capacity, it is important to highlight that Erkan demonstrated her ability to read and comprehend the report prepared by the CBRT staff. This might sound peculiar, but it addresses a previous issue where the former CBRT governor occasionally made statements that contradicted the content of the report during both report presentations and the question and answer sessions that followed.
There were instances when questions about certain aspects of the report were answered in a manner that deviated from both the report’s content and the principles of economic science. This could be attributed to the former president’s political involvement. However, even when faced with more technical questions posed by economic reporters or investment professionals, it became evident that he lacked detailed knowledge on the subject. Considering merit and bureaucratic capacity in Turkey, it is now possible to assert that Hafize Gaye Erkan, despite not being an economist, instills more confidence in the market, if not complete confidence.
When it comes to the institutional capacity and the principle of independence of the Central Bank, unfortunately, Erkan has not lived up to the expectations of his position. Given the way Turkey is governed and President Erdoğan’s governing style, it appears unlikely that Erkan would openly criticize Erdoğan. Instead, he has chosen to indirectly refer to the previous period. For example, he mentioned that when he assumed office, he encountered a “gift of macroprudential measures,” implying that some actions were taken without careful consideration. He acknowledged the inconsistency in these measures, with some being expansionary and others tightening. Erkan emphasized the need for simplification to address this confusion.
While making these technical criticisms of the previous period, Erkan was asked by a reporter about his thoughts on Erdoğan’s thesis that ‘interest is the cause and inflation is the effect’, a notion that has dominated the discourse on the Turkish economy in recent years. However, Erkan did not respond to this question, stating that he did not want to get into political issues. Nevertheless, this was a highly technical matter, despite being politicized by Erdoğan. Frankly, I would have expected Erkan to briefly explain the conditions under which this view is valid or not, and if necessary, mention the Neo-Fisherian effect, while indicating that it might not be a valid model for the Turkish economy.
Since we were talking about technical issues, these question marks could have been addressed in a very coherent and scientific way without Erdoğan being strongly criticized. But in a system like the “presidential government system”, where the winner wins everything and can impose his point of view on the entire bureaucratic structure, it seems that we will not be able to talk about the independence of the Central Bank or the president’s representation of the position he occupies for a long time.
1 Atilla Yazar ve diğerleri [GK], B. No: 2016/1635, 5/7/2022; şuradan erişilebilir: https://kararlarbilgibankasi.anayasa.gov.tr/BB/2016/1635
2 Abbas Yalçın ve diğerleri, B. No: 2014/8146, 29/3/2023; şuradan erişilebilir: https://kararlarbilgibankasi.anayasa.gov.tr/BB/2014/8146