ANKARA: Turkey’s constitutional court dealt another blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday by annulling sections of a controversial law tightening his government’s control over the judiciary.
The decision came a week after the court overturned a ban on Twitter and piled more bad news on Erdogan’s graft-tainted government hours after Moody’s downgraded its outlook on Turkey to “negative.”
The court said the most controversial clause of the law, which gave the justice ministry greater control over the appointment of prosecutors and judges, was unconstitutional.
The ruling was the result of an appeal by a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who said it violated the principles of the separation of powers and the independence of courts.
CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrikulu hailed the court’s decision, saying: “With its recent decisions, the Constitutional Court has turned into a body championing freedoms, which unsettles the regime.”
“This law includes so many unconstitutional elements that it would be strange if [the court] gave another decision,” he told AFP.
But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said he disagreed with ruling.
“The legislation was constitutional. The court’s decision has not changed my opinion in that regard. But we will of course abide by the ruling,” he said.
The court also overturned parts of the law that give the justice minister the authority to investigate prosecutors of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK], an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary.
The ruling raised questions over the fate of key board members installed by the justice minister since the law was passed but Bozdag insisted no decisions would be overturned.
The contentious bill, which sparked fistfights among lawmakers debating it in parliament, was signed into law by Turkish President Abdullah Gul in February despite opposition and rights groups arguing it was an attack on democracy.
It was one of the retaliatory measures taken by Erdogan in the wake of a graft scandal that erupted in mid-December, implicating his key allies. Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim preacher, and his loyalists in the Turkish police and judiciary, of being behind the corruption probe.
The wide-ranging investigation posed the biggest challenge to Erdogan’s 11-year rule and the government reacted with a mass purge of police and prosecutors believed to be close to Gulen’s Hizmet movement.
The now-stalled probe implicated Erdogan directly in February after the publication of audio recordings allegedly revealing his interference in court cases, business deals and media coverage.
Erdogan has dismissed the recordings as a “vile montage” and accused both prosecutors and police of spying for foreign countries.
The phone-tapping scandal, particularly the leak of a recording showing Turkish generals discussing military intervention in Syria, prompted him last to ban Twitter and YouTube – where the recordings emerged – and sparked condemnation from Turkey’s NATO allies.
While the Twitter ban has since been lifted, YouTube remains blocked despite two lower court orders. The video-sharing site has filed an appeal with the top court.
Erdogan said he had no “respect” for the court decision against the Twitter ban and that “insults to a country’s prime minister and ministers are all around”.