Turkeys top judge denies detainees used as political pawns, analysts sceptical

The president of Turkey’s highest court, İsmail Rüştü Cirit, said Turkey’s legal system was independent and impartial and denied it used detainees as political pawns, the Associated Press said.

“The only and absolute power that can rule on the arrest of a foreign citizen in Izmir and decisions about his trial are the independent and impartial courts,” Cirit said in apparent reference to the case of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen whose ongoing detention in Turkey has become the focus of a crisis between the two countries.

The suspicion that Turkey uses detainees to gain diplomatic leverage has been reinforced in recent weeks by the release of two Greek soldiers and an Amnesty International representative, Taner Kılıç. A travel ban on a German accused of terror offenses was also lifted. The moves came as Turkey seeks to mend broken fences with Europe to counterbalance tensions with the United States and relieve the pressure on Turkey’s ailing economy.

“As the crisis with the U.S. heated up and as the economic crisis heated up, Erdoğan saw a need to speed up the process of normalisation with Europe,” said Howard Eissenstat, an associate professor of Middle East history at St Lawrence University.

Eissenstat suggested that U.S. President Donald Trump’s emphasis on securing Brunson’s release encouraged Turkish officials to believe a strategy of using detainees as bargaining chips could reap dividends. However, according to Eissenstat, Turkey had gained little from such actions.

Nicholas Danforth, an analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington shares Eissenstat’s view, but said there was no evidence foreigners in Turkey were arrested with the goal of being used for such purposes. Rather, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may believe they are guilty of the charges levelled against them, which often involve accusation espionage and terror-related offences.

“In taking and holding prisoners to combat the West’s presumed hostility, Ankara ends up creating the kind of hostility it imagines,” Danforth wrote in a blog post quoted by AP.