ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey on Monday suspended three judges who ordered the release of a prominent media executive and police officers held in an anti-terrorism probe, local media said, in a move that could exacerbate concern over political meddling in the judiciary.
The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which regulates Turkey’s legal system, indefinitely suspended the justices after their court ordered the release of the head of opposition broadcaster Samanyolu TV, NTV said.
Hidayet Karaca, a former journalist, had been held awaiting trial since December when he was detained in what President Tayyip Erdogan has called an anti-terrorism investigation into attempts by his rivals to seize power.
The court had also ordered the release of around 70 police officers detained in ongoing investigations, an order the chief prosecutor refused to implement.
Karaca and the police officers are widely thought to be followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of attempting to overthrow his government.
Erdogan once counted Gulen as a close ally but the relationship fell apart in late 2013 when police officers close to Gulen were allegedly involved in leaks of a corruption investigation into Erdogan, his family and government ministers.
Erdogan welcomed the HSYK decision and said the court’s ruling to release Karaca and the officers was illegal.
“Those involved in this organization all need to pay the price, from A to Z,” Erdogan said at a news conference ahead of a trip to Kuwait. “Justice will be served.”
A lawyer for Karaca said such declarations amount to political pressure on the judiciary, adding the HSYK ruling violated rules governing the court system.
“At this point, it’s impossible to talk about a functioning legal system in Turkey. The law is dead,” Gultekin Avci said. “Our only hope now is the European Court of Human Rights.”
The allegations against Karaca stem from scenes in a television drama that prosecutors say contain coded messages to Gulen’s followers, a charge he rejects.
Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic EVans