|James C. Harrington - University of Texas Law School|
"Turkey's Struggle for Greater Democracy: The Role of Its Legal System, the 2010 Constitutional Referendum, and Individual Rights"
University of Houston
Dr. Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project and professor at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, spoke to a crowd of students, lawyers, judges, and local business people about his new book: Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gulen. Harrington discussed recent changes in Turkey’s legal structure as part of the Gulen Institute’s ongoing lecture series, pointing to the result of the Gulen trial as a pivotal victory in the nation’s struggle for civil liberties.
Before turning his attention to Turkey’s recent constitutional amendments, Harrington briefly introduced its faltering history of political change: namely, the series of military coup d’états that began in 1960. He suggested that Fethullah Gulen’s indictment can only be properly understood against this backdrop. And considering the historical tensions between democratic rule and military power in Turkey, Harrington considers Gulen’s ultimate acquittal astounding. The verdict should be viewed as a “huge victory for the Turkish people,” Harrington claimed. He then enumerated the various changes to the Turkish legal system that have resulted from the constitutional referendum of 2010, which he praised as “essentially a Bill of Rights” for the country.
Harrington also emphasized the crucial role that Turkey’s EU candidacy played in the outcome of Fethullah Gulen’s trial. As part of its accession agreements, the Turkish government was expected to abolish its state security courts, allow for more religious freedom, and take steps to ensure the civil liberties of its citizens. Suddenly, the political trial of a popular cleric and civic leader fell under the gaze of the entire European Union, and Harrington suggested that this pressure to “keep up appearances” may have protected Gulen from a more corrupt political trial and opened the way for later constitutional reform.