Top judge issues final anti-Erdogan broadside

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The outgoing head of Turkey's top court launched a final broadside against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, February 10, warning that the judiciary was being turned into an "instrument of revenge" by politicians.

Constitutional Court chairman Hasim Kilic, who announced he was retiring a month early, said the government's "extraordinary interest" in the court's affairs was undermining judicial independence.  

"Everybody knows the political views of judges and prosecutors, even in the remotest villages of the country. We cannot move forward with such a judiciary," Kilic said. 

"The judiciary is not an instrument of revenge, it is not anyone's tool to achieve their aims," he told a news conference in Ankara. 

The constitutional court is seen as the last bastion of checks and balances in Turkey. 

Under Turkish law Kilic is not allowed to run again for the court's chairman job because he has served the maximum term, which is two 4-year mandates. He was to retire next month.  

The court has elected Zuhtu Arslan – who is said to be supported by Erdogan – as its new leader. He was to take power on March 13. 

Erdogan claims Turkey's judiciary is under the sway of his ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gulen, an influential Muslim cleric based in the United States.

He accuses Gulen and his followers of being behind a sweeping corruption investigation that rocked then-prime minister Erdogan's government in December 2013.

Erdogan, who labelled the graft probe an attempted "judicial coup", vowed no mercy in the fight against Gulen and purged the police force and judiciary, he said, to rid them of pro-Gulenist elements. 

Government-backed candidates won the majority of seats in elections for the country's top judicial body in October, further tightening government control over the judiciary. 

Kilic complained about the elections, suggesting members of the judiciary were elected based on their political views. 

"As long as these elections are held (this way), there will be political conflicts, debates," he said. 

Kilic, who has headed the top court since 2007, has in recent years been at loggerheads with the Islamic-rooted government, frequently voicing concerns about political interference in the judiciary. 

The court has provoked the wrath of the government, most notably after overturning a ban on Twitter and annulling parts of a ruling party-sponsored law tightening the grip of the executive over the judiciary.

Turkey is set to hold parliamentary elections in June, with the pro-Erdogan ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aiming for a majority that could change the constitution and boost the president's powers. –