By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – At least 19 bar associations representing lawyers from provinces across Turkey, including the three largest cities, have said they will boycott an annual ceremony for the judiciary because it will take place on the grounds of the presidential palace.
Many said holding the ceremony in a location related to the presidency signals a lack of separation of powers.
The independence of Turkey’s judiciary has been hotly debated in recent years, especially since a crackdown on the judiciary and other state bodies following the July 2016 abortive coup and after the country switched to an executive presidential system in June last year.
Critics say courts are under the influence of politics. President Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party have repeatedly said the judiciary is independent and makes its own decisions.
According to Reuters’ checks of tweets and statements by the individual bar associations and their heads, at least 19 said they would not attend the ceremony, organised by Turkey’s top appeals court, the Court of Cassation, for the start of the judicial year at the Presidential Congress and Culture Centre in Ankara on Sept. 2.
The 19 bar associations boycotting the ceremony, including those for the cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, represent some 77% of lawyers registered in Turkey’s 79 provincial bar associations as of Dec. 31, 2018, according to data from the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB).
Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul Bar Association, said the executive presidential system was damaging the separation of powers.
“At a time when discussions [on the separation of powers] are ongoing with the utmost intensity … the choice of location for the opening ceremony is not a simple matter,” he wrote in a letter, posted on his association’s website.
“The choice is extremely important in that it states the position of… the Court of Cassation in these discussions.”
The ceremony was held at the Presidential Congress and Culture Centre in 2016 and then again in 2018.
The TBB, an umbrella body, said on Saturday its head, Metin Feyzioglu, will attend the ceremony and make a speech, as is customary.
State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted the presidency of the Court of Cassation on Saturday as saying that most of the bar association heads that were invited had said they will attend.
Accusations that the Court of Cassation was under political influence were unjust, it said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)