Turkey's top appeals court files complaint against constitutional court judges

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's top appeals court took the unprecedented step of filing a criminal complaint against members of the Constitutional Court on Wednesday, over a disagreement on the case of imprisoned parliamentarian Can Atalay, a court document showed.

The Constitutional Court had ordered the release of Atalay last month, ruling that his imprisonment violated his rights to security, liberty and the right to be elected. But the Court of Cassation, the appeals court, in an unusual decision, ruled that lower courts should not heed the decision and called for a criminal investigation into the Constitutional Court members who supported the release.

The appeals court alleged that the Constitutional Court violated the constitution.

Legal experts say the judges of the constitutional court can only be tried by the Supreme Criminal Court, which is the Constitutional Court itself, further complicating the situation.

Both the government and opposition political parties expressed concern following the complaint. The hashtags "Constitutional Crisis", "Constitutional Court", and "Court of Cassation" dominated social media platform X.

"We are experiencing an event that should never, ever happen. Shame. Such a shame. The powers that make up the state should solve problems, not create them," President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party vice chairman Hayati Yazici said.

Atalay, 47, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in April 2022 after being convicted of trying to overthrow the government by organising the nationwide Gezi Park protests in 2013 along with Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala and six others.

All defendants denied the charges regarding the protests, which they said developed spontaneously and which marked the biggest popular challenge to Erdogan in his two decades in power.

The main opposition CHP Leader, Ozgur Ozel, called for an urgent meeting of his party in response to the court complaint, calling it "an attempt at overthrowing the constitutional order."

"Surely this is one of the most significant legal crises in the 100 years of modern Turkey," said law professor Timucin Koprulu of Atilim University Law School.

The European Commission's annual report on Turkey's long-stalled EU membership bid criticized on Wednesday its "serious backsliding" on democratic standards, the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.

(This story has been refiled to add a missing surname in the reporting credit at the bottom of the text)

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Leslie Adler)