Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2019
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Turkish lawyers threaten boycott of Erdogan’s courts ceremony

  • The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • EU: Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014

ISTANBUL: Dozens of Turkish bar associations are threatening to boycott President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s planned ceremony to open the judicial year at the presidential palace, saying it would be another violation of the judiciary’s independence.
The boycott protest would be a first by law associations against Erdogan, who has faced increasing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights activists over media freedoms and interference in the courts.
The European Union says Turkey’s judicial independence and the principle of separation of powers have been eroded since 2014 and that judges and prosecutors have come under increasing political pressure.
At least 42 bar associations including those for Istanbul and the capital Ankara said they would not attend the event on September 2 because they believe the ceremony should take place at the Supreme Court building, not the presidential palace.
“These past years have seen judicial independence being seriously undermined... The judiciary is under pressure from the executive,” Mehmet Durakoglu, head of the Istanbul bar association, said on Sunday.
“Under these circumstances, we would expect the ceremony for the opening of the judicial year to take place at a venue that represents the separation of powers, rather than a political location.”
Erdogan’s supporters dismiss criticism he has undermined Turkish democracy, saying his government faces domestic threats especially since a failed 2016 coup against him.
For many of his more conservative backers, he has brought prosperity and defended Turkey’s interests in his decade and a half in power.
The opening ceremony for the new judicial year was first held at the presidential palace in 2016 after the failed coup.
Since then authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people for alleged ties to the coup plotters, in what rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown.
Erdogan has dismissed criticism over the ceremony, describing the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara as “the place of the people.”
“The ceremony taking place in the place of the people would only strengthen judicial independence,” the Turkish leader has said.
But for attorneys, the boycott decision represents a “reaction against violation of freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence,” said Dogus Aygun, another lawyer from the Istanbul bar association.
Critics say Turkey’s courts have bowed to pressure, often making rulings that favor authorities since massive purges in the judiciary following a corruption scandal in 2013 and the 2016 coup bid.
Durakoglu said the bar associations would keep up with their campaign for more judicial independence in Turkey even “at the expense of paying a heavy price.”
“We have no fear nor hesitation,” he said. “We see no solution other than keep on fighting.”


‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

Updated 19 September 2019

‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

  • Time magazine posted the photo
  • Trudeausaid he should have known better

TORONTO: Canadian leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign was hit Wednesday by the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a 2001 costume party. The prime minister apologized and said “it was a dumb thing to do.”
Time magazine posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It depicts the then 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign exactly one week ago, said he should have known better.
“I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.
The Canadian prime minister is but the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.
The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” The prime minister said it was not the first time he has painted his face; once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.
“I should have known better then but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do.”
He said he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is “sometimes appropriate.”
“These are the situations I regret deeply,” Trudeau added.
The prime minister, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.
The photo’s publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era, with Canada accepting more refugees than the United States. His Liberal government has also strongly advocated free trade and legalized cannabis nationwide.
But the 47-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history, which arose when Trudeau’s former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal rocked the government and led to multiple resignations earlier this year, causing a drop in the leader’s poll ratings.
Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau said he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.
His quick apology did not stem the criticism from political opponents, who took the prime minister to task for what they said was troubling behavior.
“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and the first visible minority to lead a national party.
Scheer, the opposition Conservative leader, said brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.
“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.
Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was “gobsmacked” at the development and wondered how it would land in Parliament.
“We’ll just have to see how the party reacts,” he said. “I’m very curious to know how Liberal members of Parliament that are black will react.”
How the scandal will affect Trudeau’s campaign remains in question. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in US politics than in Canada.
“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said. “The Liberals may very well lose the election — they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015 — but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”