Judicial reform for whom?

As President Erdoğan continues to feed expectations that new judiciary reforms are on the way in Turkey, we must pause and ask what problems this reform is meant to address, and who it will likely benefit. When looking at recent legal developments, it becomes clear that we are exceedingly unlikely to see any substantive reform addressing Turkey’s core problems of freedom of speech and implementation.

Turkish President Erdoğan continues to insist that a series long-promised of economic and judiciary reforms are on the way: “We want to conduct this process on a wide backdrop, reaching a comprehensive agreement without excluding anyone.”

This statement may sound encouraging, but I doubt even his supporters are taking this talk of reform seriously, the opposition surely isn’t. President Erdoğan often like to talk about democracy and reform. Perhaps institutions such as the EU, European Council, ECHR, etc. have expectations surrounding the realization of such “reforms.” But in Turkey? No, not here.
Dinçer Demirkent, a Turkish political scientist, wrote for Gazete Duvar about this futile culture of reform in Turkey, asking the government these central questions: “Why are you considering reform? What is the point?”
Demirkent reminds us that after the previous round of “judiciary reforms,” after which Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş remained in prison, mafia leaders were released and started to threat CHP opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Alas, these “new” round is likely to fit neatly into Demirkent’s analysis of Turkey’s previous reforms:
“Reform comes about only if there is a problem, and factions and political representatives are affected by that problem. The problem is then addressed in the public arena using democratic negotiation practices. What are we currently saying is the problem then? Well, for the government, the problems are: the CHP and HDP, any opposition in general, several lobbies whose names change constantly, and countries which may or may not be our neighbors. Who is being affected by these problems? It can only be AKP leader President Erdoğan and his representatives. Yes, that is why those affected by these problems are negotiating, making declarations, and blaming others in order to solve them.”
Let’s take a quick tour of several legal developments from last days, so that we may understand where the real problems lie, and where “judiciary reform” is truly needed:
- Turkey's Constitutional Court refused a petition to release Abdullah Turan, a prisoner who is paralyzed from the neck down.

- After claims that a child was sexually abused by 27 men, including soldiers, police officers, and the state's village guards in Batman province, two dozen people who tweeted about the incident were detained and Gazete Duvar’s report on it was banned.
- Turkey's Human Rights Association (İHD) reported an apparent ban on all Kurdish materials for prisoners in Turkey's Black Sea region. The association also reported the existence of severe maltreatment of prisoners, including strip searches, a lack of sanitary products, and a shortage of healthcare services.

- Ayşegül Doğan, a renowned journalist, news coordinator, and broadcaster for IMCTV, which was shut down by decree in 2016, was sentenced to 6 years 3 months in prison. Doğan is accused of “founding and leading a terrorist organization,” charges based solely on phone calls with her editors and plane ticket reservations.

As this has all happened only in the last two days, does anyone really believe that this new “reform” will really address Turkey’s core
freedom of speech issues or ensure local courts abide by official health records and Constitutional Court decisions? Technically, these matters are already addressed by law and these are instead “problems of implementation.”

So what incentive is there to reform implementation, when everything is already controlled by the ruling AKP-MHP alliance?