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Countdown for Turkish 'coup courts'

October 9, 2016

Some 70,000 people have been investigated and more than 31,000 arrested following the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15. There is now talk of establishing so-called special "coup courts."

Coup suspects being taken to court by police
Image: picture-alliance/Zuma/T. Adanali

All of Turkey was in a state of shock after the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. Since then, almost three months have passed. The question now is how the accused should be brought to trial, given the very large number of people who have been linked to the coup and investigated or arrested as a result.

Both Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag have commented on the setting up of so-called "coup courts." Lawyers, however, are of the opinion that many questions still need to be answered regarding universally applicable standards in the dispensation of justice.

Will new courts be established?

In early September, it became known that the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) wanted to establish so-called "coup courts" in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul for trials related to the events of July 15. The press reported that the HSYK had prepared an enabling regulation to this effect.

However, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag stated that it was not necessary to create special courts to try the rebels, saying: "It is clear which courts will litigate against those who perpetrated the attempted coup." Bozdag also said that the plan was to build huge courtrooms for the trials, with tens of thousands of defendants. The construction of a courtroom for 900 people on the grounds of Ankara's Sincan prison is currently ongoing: Work will soon be completed.

Yildirim: Trials will be conducted swiftly

At the parliamentary party meeting on October 4, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the trials held in the "coup courts" would be conducted swiftly. He also emphasized that efforts were being made to make the courts' work easier, given that many public prosecutors and judges had been suspended. "There are ways of shortening the trials," he said. "Specialized courts are being formed for this purpose. Settlement mechanisms will be introduced. Some cases will be settled out of court."

The lawyers DW has spoken to say it is not easy to bring a trial to a swift conclusion when more than 30,000 people have been imprisoned and tens of thousands taken into police custody. The government has frequently talked about "setting up special courts," but the jurists say that, according to universal legal standards, this is unacceptable.

No glimpse of the case files

According to the lawyer Ergin Cinmen, not even the public prosecutors due to interrogate the suspected perpetrators of the coup know how the courts are meant to handle these trials. "We don't even know whether there will be one huge trial or whether they'll be assigned to local courts as well," says Cinmen. He also stresses that criminal law does not permit the establishment of special courts for the coup attempt of July 15, and that it is illegal under current law to withhold information about the cases of those who have been taken into police custody or imprisoned.

"The defense lawyer is not told what the charges are, nor on what evidence they are based. However, the information the lawyers are not receiving is disseminated like wildfire across pro-government media outlets," Cinmen says.

Ergin Cinmen is also the lawyer of the journalist brothers Mehmet and Ahmet Altan. They have been in prison for more than two weeks. He says that, as their defense lawyer, he has been prevented from accessing their case files. He believes that where the judiciary is concerned, Turkey has failed. "Recent developments show that this lawlessness is set to continue. We assume that with so many defendants and so many different accusations, the trials relating to the coup attempt of July 15 will go on for at least five years."

Another issue is the danger that trials with so many defendants may not be fair. The lawyer Tugut Kazan warns that mass trials could result in unjust verdicts. Kazan says it would be fairer for judges to be able to examine each case individually: "In a trial with 500 or even 1,000 defendants, everything becomes so confused that ultimately you can't see the wood for the trees."