Top Turkish court backs new constitution at event marked by Islamic prayer

Mehmet Akarca, the president of Turkey’s Court of Cassation, said he supported a government move to rewrite the country’s secular constitution at a ceremony in Ankara marked by Islamic prayer.

“The writing of a new constitution has entered the agenda for both governing and opposition parties once again. We support these efforts,” Akarca said.

Speaking at the ceremony on Wednesday, Akarca said the government “should aim for high standards in matters such as the rule of law and judicial independence”.

The event was held at a new building constructed for the top court.

Head of Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) Ali Erbaş joined Akarca and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a stage before judges and prosecutors and recited the prayer to mark the inauguration of the new building.

Turkey’s courts, modernised under measures introduced by the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, have a staunch secular past. The Constitutional Court banned the Welfare Party (RP), a predecessor of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), in January 1998 for mixing Islam with politics. The AKP was formed in 2001.

“Since its founding, for one and a half centuries, many judges and prosecutors served in the Court of Cassation, striving to enact the justice that (Allah) ordered,” Erbaş said.

“Allah mandates justice,” he said.

Some prominent Turkish commentators criticised Erdoğan and Akarca for holding the prayers in posts on social media. They also took aim at the politization of the judiciary, calling on the courts and government to uphold the rule of law.

“Al Fatihah to the soul of justice,” journalist Can Dündar said in a tweet, repeating the words of a surah of the Koran traditionally used for funerals.

"Did we pass to a religious republic under the leadership of the Diyanet but did not know about it?

"What is the President of Religious Affairs doing at the opening of the judicial year of the secular republic?" he said. "Do they beg for justice because there is no justice, as they pray for rain when there is no rain?"

“In the past, the Court of Cassation’s presidents would emphasise judicial independence, rule of law and constitutional freedoms. Today, he baselessly claims trust in the court is rising and demands legislation for social media bans,” analyst and economist Uğur Gürses said.

“First look at whether you have anything to do with the law,” member of parliament and human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said.

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