Last month, U.S. media was abuzz with rumors that the Turkish government is pushing in back-channels for a prisoner swap with the White House.
According to the reports, Ankara wants to secure the release of a Turkish-Iranian businessman standing trial in a Manhattan court. In exchange, the government is proposing freedom for a US pastor imprisoned in Turkey.
There was nothing of substance but media reports. But the rumors pointed to Turkey’s strong desire to secure a deal and get Reza Zarrab back home.
A new government decree issued late Thursday gives Turkey’s president the power and mandate to initiate a prisoner swap with other countries when national security matters are at stake.
The carefully scripted decree brings the cases of Mr. Zarrab and US pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been in a Turkish jail since October, into public focus.
The Zarrab case has been a thorn in the side of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government, with the Turkish leader frequently expressing his disdain over “misdeed and injustice” against his citizen. Mr. Zarrab is charged with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
In two decrees issued on Thursday, the Turkish government sacked hundreds of civilian and military officials and bolstered the president’s power over the country’s intelligence agency.
With the latest decree, more than 100 academics have been dismissed, and at least 900 public servants from the military, the bureaucratic and government departments have also been fired.
Since the state of emergency was imposed in July 2016, the government has ruled by decree, issuing dozens of directives that have the full force of law. More than 150,000 public employees, including governors, police chiefs, generals, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and academics have been dismissed in 13 months.
The latest decrees introduced changes to relations between government departments. One proposed change would increase the president’s control and power over the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
According to the decree, no investigation could be launched against the MIT Undersecretary without permission of the president, who will also chair a new national intelligence board. The president would also have the approval of undersecretary’s participation as a witness in an ongoing trial.
Additionally, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office would be able to investigate lawmakers for alleged crimes before and after an election.
The measures were swiftly rebuked by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and People’s Democracy Party (HDP) which lamented that the government intends to fully crack down on opposition parties with trumped-up charges, and remove lawmakers’ immunity ahead of elections.
The measures also affect retired air force generals. At least 10 generals lost the rights and titles that they kept after retiring. Under the new decree, they will never be able to work again for a private airline, or another company. Their passports also were revoked.
The Turkish government will hire 32,000 new police officers to meet the urgent manpower needs of the depleted force of National Police Department. At least 4,000 new prosecutors and judges will also be hired.
They will replace the more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors who have been dismissed in the post-coup purge.