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Eroding judicial independence threatens Turkish elections

Opposition groups are increasingly concerned about Turkey's political climate after recent court rulings showed consistent lenience for the president's supporters.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images
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Judicial independence has taken on a new prominence in Turkey ahead of the 2023 polls. Government critics describe recent rulings as further signs of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's interference in the Turkish judiciary to silence his opponents.

Two judicial proceedings on May 31 provide illustrative examples. Nationalist assailants who punched and nearly lynched Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in 2019 have avoided jail time despite being convicted of several crimes. A Turkish court sentenced Osman Sarigul, a primary defendant in a 36-defendant case, to five years in prison, downgrading his jail sentence to probation. Other defendants were sentenced to lesser terms, also avoiding prison time. Ironically, on the same day, prominent opposition official Canan Kaftancioglu went to prison — albeit for a few hours — after the country’s top appeals court upheld her jail sentence over a couple of tweets in 2014. The following day, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu appeared before a judge for criticizing a decision by the country’s Supreme Electoral Council. Prosecutors asked for a four-year jail term and a political ban for the mayor, who is seen as one of three potential front-runners to compete against Erdogan in the next polls.

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