After ECtHR, Turkey’s Top Court Rejects To Review Purge Cases

In a decision that concerns more than 150,000 public servants who were dismissed by government decrees during the state of emergency imposed since last summer, Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected applications for legal review of dismissals.

Two weeks after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dropped more than 12,000 applications from Turkey, citing that domestic legal channels have not been fully exhausted, Constitutional Court in Ankara took a similar decision. The court dismissed 70,771 applications by the public workers, urging them to complete the procedure by first applying to a Commission, which is set up by the government but has not been operational yet.

The Turkish government, facing increasing international calls for addressing the plight of the sacked workers, moved earlier this year to assemble a commission to investigate claims of wrongdoing and arbitrary dismissals. The decision partly emanated from the need to ward off a possible EU sanction against Turkey, served as a measure to salvage breaking ties with European Parliament and Venice Commission.

Though it was formed in January, the seven members of the commission were determined in July and have yet to start to work processing the applications.

In a ruling released by media, Constitutional Court said it has no jurisdiction over reviewing applications since the formation of the commission as a way of legal remedy.

Applicants, the court said, must first submit their cases to the commission. Few believe that it would work.

In an article analyzing the commission’s structure in January, Constitutional Law expert Assistant Professor Kerem Altiparmak expounded at great length on the shortcomings and flaws of the commission, both for practical and political reasons.

The upshot of his argument was that the commission was not independent of the political authorities, the same people who decided and shaped the policy of dismissals. Another factor was the fact that the majority of commission members appointed by the government, and could hardly deal with an overwhelming number of applications, more than 100,000, effectively in a short time frame. It could, he said, take at least 10 years to review each case.

Rather than working as a problem-solving mechanism, he argued, it would serve as a delaying tactic to block the fired Turkish workers’ access to ECtHR.

Deterred by the prospect of drowning in tens of thousands of applications from Turkish citizens, the ECtHR chose the path of deferring cases to Turkey’s legal system. To the satisfaction of the Turkish government, and to the dismay of the victims of the government purge, the court refused to allow itself bogged down in a tortuous process of overseeing tens of thousands of applications.

As recently as Wednesday, the court rejected a plea by two Turkish dismissed workers, one academic and a teacher who are on hunger strike, to press Turkey to release them from detention.

Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca were sacked last year by the government during emergency rule. The two went on a hunger strike this spring to demand a return to their jobs.

The Turkish authorities imprisoned the two in June while they were still observing hunger strike. The two then applied to ECtHR to force Ankara to release them on health grounds.

In a decision that stunned many observers and people, the Strasbourg-based court said the detention of Ms. Gulmen and Mr. Ozakca “did not pose a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm to the life or limb of the applicants.”

“It, therefore, rejected the applicant’s request that the court order the government to release them,” the court said in a statement.

The ruling stirred an uproar in Turkey. Selcuk Kozagacli, the lawyer of the applicants, fumed in indignation, telling media that the decision is nonsense.

“In the decision, the court almost fully repeats the arguments of the government, without considering our arguments and the documents we provided,” Al Jazeera quoted Mr. Kozagacli as saying.

He stressed that the files they sent definitively prove that Mr. Ozakca and Ms. Gulmen are at imminent risk of losing their lives. But the ECtHR decision says they are not.

He argued that the court ruling would enable the Turkish government to move ahead with unlawful practices with great impunity.

Two weeks ago, the court also dropped more than 12,000 applications by the dismissed government workers on the ground that domestic legal measures need to be exhausted.

Regarding the case of the hunger strikers, the court urged Ankara to allow doctors to perform a medical examination of them. The two, ECtHR said in a renewed call, also should drop their hunger strike.