Turkey plans to abolish military high courts with constitutional change

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey plans to abolish military high courts by amending the country’s constitution, a senior lawmaker in the ruling AK Party said on Friday, part of government efforts to boost civilian control over the armed forces and the judiciary.

Chairman of the Justice Commission Ahmet Iyimaya (R) talks to MPs as they convene to debate amending penal code article 301 at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara April 18, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The reforms will also aim to unite Turkey’s high courts under a single roof, Ahmet Iyimaya, the chairman of parliament’s justice commission, told Reuters in an interview. It will not include controversial projects such as the introduction of an executive presidency, he said.

President Tayyip Erdogan blames U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the coup attempt, which killed about 240 people. He has initiated a crackdown on Gulen’s followers within the judiciary, military and the rest of the government for alleged links to the coup plot.

“Measures to cleanse the members of judiciary who have sold their souls to the Gulenist terror group is a must,” Iyimaya said. “Work will be carried out to unite high courts under a single one. After that, the military high court and military administrative court will also be removed,” he said.

The military courts have jurisdiction over the prosecution of soldiers. The military high courts are, in effect, appeals courts for those cases.

Overhauling the judiciary follows unprecedented changes to the military’s structure, including closing secondary war academies, moving to bring the army fully under Defence Ministry control and dishonorably discharging more than 3,000 soldiers.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had announced plans to change the constitution late last month, capitalizing on what he described as common ground among political parties following the abortive coup attempt.

“I believe these constitutional changes could be done in August before parliament goes to recess,” Iyimaya said.

Any constitutional change requires the support of at least 367 deputies in the 550-seat assembly to pass directly. The AKP has 316 seats; the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 133 lawmakers.

Opposition parties have been wary of the AKP’s years-long campaign for a new constitution because Erdogan has made transforming his office from a largely ceremonial post into an executive-style presidency a central aspect of the new charter. They worry this will concentrate too much power in his hands.

Iyimaya said the reforms also envisage parliament electing members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) instead of the existing system where the Justice Ministry, members of the high courts and Erdogan appoint them.

Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler; Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley, Larry King