Details of AK Party's defense to court in closure case

The main argument of the defense statement is that the indictment is political, rather than being based on legal grounds.

Details of AK Party's defense to court in closure case
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has completed its preliminary defense to be submitted to the Constitutional Court, which on March 31 announced that it would hear a complaint filed by a state prosecutor on March 14 against the party on charges of anti-secularist activities.

The indictment also seeks political bans for 70 party members and President Abdullah Gül, a former member of the AK Party, which was re-elected to power by a resounding 47 percent margin. The AK Party submitted its preliminary defense yesterday evening, two days ahead of the deadline the court had set for a defense statement.

The main argument of the defense statement is that the indictment is political, rather than being based on legal grounds. The statement emphasized that the AK Party has not engaged in any activities that violate the principles of secularism, either in its program or in any of its deeds in its past five years in power.

The statement also points out that, under Turkish law, indicting the president is only allowable on charges of treason, which renders the prosecutor's demand to ban Gül from politics for the next five years entirely without legal basis. The indictment was prepared by eight members of the AK Party with backgrounds in law -- Bülent Arınç, Cemil Çiçek, Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, Burhan Kuzu, Ahmet İyimaya, Sadullah Ergin, Bekir Bozdağ and Zafer Üskül -- in about a month.

The statement does not deal with the prosecutor's accusations individually. Instead, it points out that most of the accusations are not legally sound given that a majority of them are based on excerpts from newspaper articles and political commentaries.

The main theme of the defense statement is the concept of the supremacy of democracy and law. The document also cites the relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Venice criteria -- which set out the EU standards for banning political parties -- and the Copenhagen criteria, a fundamental EU document of democratic standards.

The document notes that shutting down a political party, an element so dear to democratic life in any country, is an exceptional situation which can only be resorted to as a last option.

The AK Party's statement stresses the principle of separation of powers. It reads: "The prosecutor holds the AK Party responsible for all deeds of both the legislative and the executive branches, which runs against the separation of powers.

Acts of the Education Ministry and the Religious Affairs Directorate as well as local governments are inspected by the Council of State, except for their administrative deeds. Our party cannot be held accountable for the acts of these agencies."

On a similar point, it reads: "Acts such as alcohol bans, stricter rules for issuing permits to serve alcohol and efforts to isolate places of entertainment that serve alcohol, which have surfaced as the result of activities of local governments, are all subject to scrutiny of the Council of State. If these acts are considered crimes, this would consequently imply that the Council of State has not fulfilled its duty. For this reason, the procedures of the local administrations cannot be presented as evidence for party closure."

The document also brought to the attention of the Constitutional Court that the indictment was prepared hastily and in a sloppy way. "Even the date of the election was mistakenly printed as July 22, 2008 [instead of 2007]," it said. "The accusation that the AK Party is anti-secularist is asserted in the indictment, mostly based on stories taken from newspapers. However, the refutations issued in response to most of these stories were overlooked," the defense statement said.

It also noted that an amendment the AK Party passed in Parliament with the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which lifts a ban on the headscarf on university campuses was in fact proposed jointly with the MHP, which did not get in trouble for supporting the headscarf bill, although the statement did not overtly mention this last piece of information. It noted that 411 legislators had signed the proposal before it was submitted to Parliament. "This is an activity of the legislature. Deputies cannot be accused on the basis of their legislative activities. If there is any such act that violates the Constitution, then that law is canceled by the Constitutional Court," the statement read, noting that since the Constitutional Court had not yet announced its final verdict on the headscarf bill, which was challenged by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) after it was adopted earlier this year, it is not legally correct to hold the headscarf bill against the AK Party.

It also recalled that a change to the existing Additional Article 17 of Turkey's Higher Education Law, which also helps to remove the headscarf ban, was not reviewed in Parliament yet. "However, the prosecutor demands political bans for some deputies of the AK Party just because they had put their signatures on the Additional Article 17 amendment bill.

The prosecutor cites some statements of former Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç as evidence that the AK Party is trying to overthrow the secularist order." In defense of this, the statement said: "Parliament speakers cut all their ties with their political party the minute they are elected. The accusations directed at Arınç are based on statements made and deeds performed in his term as parliament speaker. This is why our party cannot be held responsible for any of the accusations directed at him." The defense statement also pointed out that in Arınç's case, the prosecutor had made a procedural mistake, recalling that under the law, only Parliament can decide whether to judge current or former parliament speakers. The indictment also cites some of the statements made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ministers and some party administrators in criticism of certain judicial decisions as evidence for the AK Party's anti-secularism. "These cannot be presented as crimes. It is not illegal to criticize court decisions," the defense statement said.

The statement also said it was not legally viable to associate statements made by Erdoğan in 1994 and 1995 against secularism with the AK Party, which was founded in 2001. "These words cannot be presented as evidence for shutting down a party which was established seven years after they were voiced. The statute of limitations on these statements, even if they are true, has expired." The defense document also pointed out: "Accusations in the indictment directed at the AK Party for being a partner of the Greater Middle East Project and an agent of expanding moderate Islam are not issues of law, but rather, points of political discussion. For this reason, criticism in these regards is not the subject of a closure case, but of political discourse."

Preliminary defense done, next is constitutional change

The AK Party has two defenses against the closure case. One was the preliminary defense. The second one is introducing a new package of democratic reform, which includes changes that make it much more difficult to shut down political parties. The party will decide whether to push ahead with the reform package or not after Erdoğan finishes holding a series of consultation meetings he has been having with his party's deputies.

After the preliminary defense, the AK Party will appoint one of its deputies to present an oral defense to the court.

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Last Mod: 01 Mayıs 2008, 09:43
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