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US on Turkish corruption scandal: No one above the law

11 January 2014 [10:50] - TODAY.AZ
The US State Department has implicitly criticized a proposal by the Turkish government, which is aiming for a tighter grip over the judiciary by restructuring the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), saying that the US supports Turkish people's desire for a legal system where no one is above the law and where allegations against public figures are investigated impartially, Today's Zaman reported.

During the daily press briefing at the US Department of State on Thursday, American journalists quizzed State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki over the developments in Turkey, namely the sacking of police officers, the HSYK proposal and strict control over the Internet, asking for a broader overview of the US position on such issues.

"In our conversations with all stakeholders in Turkey, we continue to make clear that the United States supports the desire of the Turkish people for a legal system that meets the highest standards of fairness, timeliness, and transparency in civil and criminal matters, where no one is above the law and where allegations against public figures are investigated impartially," said Psaki.

"You are familiar with our view on freedom of speech and freedom of media, which we've expressed as needed and express annually in our report as well. And we're certainly communicating that directly to the government," she added.

When asked about the level of communications between Turkey and the US administration, Psaki said she does not have any readouts or updates on calls from Washington, but "certainly, it's [the US's message] being communicated on the ground."

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) sent a bill proposing changes to the structure of the HSYK to the Parliament Speaker's Office on Tuesday evening. The HSYK is the body responsible for appointments in the judiciary. The bill allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the HSYK.

In addition, the HSYK will comprise two separate bodies: One will include an 11-member board of judges while the other will be made up of a seven-member board of prosecutors. If adopted, the bill will allow Parliament and the justice minister to have more say in the election of members of both of the HSYK bodies.

According to the bill, the board will no longer have the authority to pass decrees and circulars. Instead, the justice minister will be entitled to pass decrees and circulars on behalf of the HSYK. Furthermore, the board will be stripped off its authority to decide to launch investigations into HSYK members. This authority will again be passed to the justice minister.

Psaki reiterated that Turkey is and remains a key US ally, adding, "We've expressed our concerns about some of the events that are happening on the ground directly, publicly and privately, and we'll continue to do that."

When asked by a journalist if Turkey had turned into a "less reliable ally" for the US, Psaki said Ankara remains an important partner. "[Turkey] remains a country we work closely with on a range of issues, and when we have concerns, we'll make those known," she said.

She also said that she would not make a prediction about Turkey's reliability. "As you know, Turkey is - will be participating in a range of discussions about Syria and the crisis in Syria. They're obviously an important partner on that. We work with them on other issues," she added.

Psaki stressed that the US continues to work closely with Turkey and has expressed concerns about issues going on domestically as it sees fit.

A journalist asked whether the US considers Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an a leader who respects democracy, since he has dismissed judges and prosecutors and put more than a thousand journalists in jail. In response, Psaki said: "Well, I will say that when we have concerns about his actions, we express those. And that's something I have just done today."

The European Union has also expressed its concerns about the recent developments in Turkey.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks voiced criticism against the HSYK proposal in a tweet on Tuesday. He said proposals to curb the powers of the HSYK represent a "serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey."

"The removal of a large number of police officers from their posts ... is a matter of concern," EU spokesman Peter Stano said on Wednesday. "We urge Turkey ... to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner."

Hundreds of police officers have been reassigned or demoted since Dec. 17, when dozens of suspects -- including businessmen close to the government and the sons of three former ministers -- were detained as part a corruption investigation. The dismissals, coupled with the removal of prosecutors who ordered the investigation, have heightened worries in the EU about the erosion of judicial independence in Turkey, which had been a candidate for membership since 2005.

The European Union will likely discuss the reaction of the Turkish government to an unfolding corruption investigation and its possible affects on accession talks, according to a report.

EUobserver, an Internet news website that specializes in EU affairs, said the Turkish government's response to the wave of detentions on charges of tender rigging and bribery as part of the corruption investigation may also affect a planned visit by Prime Minister Erdo?an to Brussels later this month.



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