Turkish lawmakers throw punches, flying kicks amid corruption investigation feud

Bill to give ruling party more say in appointing judiciary members causes ruckus in parliament

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 3:31pm

Turkish politicians threw punches and water bottles during a debate on Saturday about government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, as a feud over the ruling party’s handling of a corruption scandal intensified.

One lawmaker leapt on a table and threw a flying kick as others wrestled and punched at each other, with document folders, plastic water bottles and even an iPad flying through the air, a Reuters correspondent in the room said.

Parliament’s justice commission was gathering to discuss a draft bill from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party to give it more say over the judiciary when the scuffles broke out.

The fight erupted when a representative of a judicial association arrived with a petition arguing the bill was anti-constitutional but he was not allowed to speak, witnesses said.

“If I am being kicked at here as a representative of the judiciary, all prosecutors and judges will be trampled on when this law passes,” a ruffled Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, head of the Yarsav professional association, said after the ruckus.

Erdogan has cast the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which poses one of the biggest challenges of his 11-year rule, as an attempted “judicial coup” meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year.

He has responded by purging the police force of hundreds of officers and seeking tighter control over the judiciary.

Watch: Fighting breaks out in Turkish parliament

Judicial warning

One of Turkey’s most senior legal figures joined the opposition on Friday in warning the AK Party its proposed reforms to the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) would breach the constitution.

Ahmet Hamsici, deputy chairman of the HSYK, said greater government control over the body responsible for naming judges and prosecutors would contravene the basic principle of the separation of powers.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who was in the room when the punches were thrown, hinted that the AK Party might back down if the opposition agreed instead to changes in parts of the constitution governing the judiciary.

If I am being kicked at here as a representative of the judiciary, all prosecutors and judges will be trampled on when this law passes
Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, Yarsav head

“If all political parties agree on a change in articles and announce it, it could be we withdraw this draft law,” he said.

However, Bozdag’s comments drew jeers of disapproval from opposition deputies and a senior source in the ruling party said Erdogan had no intention of backing down on the draft bill.

“The AKP is trying to make its fascist regulation through violence. We won’t allow this,” said Muslim Sari, an MP for the main opposition CHP, who said he was on the receiving end of an iPad thrown during the scuffles.

Erdogan’s supporters have cast the corruption probe as a smear campaign devised by US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who exercises broad, if covert, influence in the media and judiciary. They see the HSYK as dominated by Gulenists.

The affair has helped drive the lira currency to new lows and has shaken investor confidence in a country whose stability has largely derived from Erdogan’s strong grip on power.

But it is the government’s reaction, seeking tighter control over the courts, police and even the internet, which risks doing deeper long-term damage, not least to Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union and to its relations with Washington. Both of them are already critical of its record on human rights.

The US State Department said this week it supported the Turkish people’s desire for a transparent legal system, while the EU warned Turkey, a candidate for membership of the bloc, about threats to judicial independence.