Turkey’s constitutional court on Friday overturned sections of a controversial reform tightening the government’s grip on the judiciary, local media said.
This is considered to be a blow to the reform seen as part of a bid by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to snuff out a corruption scandal.
The court cancelled articles granting the justice minister powers over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, according to reports carried by broadcasters CNN Turk and NTV, which could not immediately be confirmed.
The decision came after an appeal by a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Agence Frnace-Presse reported.
The court also overturned parts of the law that give the justice minister the authority to investigate prosecutors of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary.
The contentious bill, which sparked fistfights among lawmakers debating it in parliament, was signed into law by Turkish President Abdullah Gul in February despite opposition and rights groups arguing it was an attack on democracy.
Not only the judiciary, but the Turkish government has also sought parliamentary approval to boost the powers of the secret service on Thursday.
The move is seen by Erdogan’s critics as a bid to tighten his grip on the apparatus of state as he wages a bitter power struggle.
Control of the NATO member’s security apparatus goes to the heart of a feud between Erdogan and Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally based in the United States whose network of followers wields influence in the police and judiciary.
Erdogan accuses Gulen’s Hizmet (“Service”) network of orchestrating a plot to unseat him, tapping thousands of phones, including his own, over years and using leaked recordings to unleash corruption allegations against his inner circle in the run-up to a series of elections. Gulen denies involvement.
According to an initial draft, seen by Reuters, proposals before parliament include giving the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) more scope for eavesdropping and foreign operations, as well as greater immunity from prosecution for top agents.
The MIT is run by Hakan Fidan, one of Erdogan’s closest confidantes, who was himself the subject of an inquiry in February 2012 seen by the prime minister’s circle as a challenge to his authority from a Gulen-influenced judiciary.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the priority was to update existing laws which were decades out of date and to bring Turkey’s spy agency in line with international peers.