Report alleges serious setback for democracy as 40,000 removed from jobs and police and media figures imprisoned
Turkey’s government is inflicting “systematic human rights violations” on its judiciary, police and media, according to a scathing report by senior British lawyers that was commissioned by one of president Erdogan’s exiled opponents.
The critical, 95 page-long survey alleges that the AK party government has interfered to produce “supine” courts, censored websites, restricted freedom of expression, stifled corruption investigations and subjected detainees to degrading treatment.
It has been written by Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, Sir Edward Garnier QC, the Conservative MP and former solicitor general, Prof Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, the director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and Sarah Palin, a barrister specialising in media law.
Their inquiry was funded by the US-based Journalist and Writers Foundation, whose honorary chairman is the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen – a former ally of Erdogan who has become a fortright critic. Last year, a Turkish court was reported to have issued a warrant for Gülen’s arrest.
The lawyers’ report focuses on Gülen’s Hizmet movement and claims that his followers have suffered systematic purges that have removed as many as 40,000 employees from public positions, led to mass arrests and in some cases periods of detention.
“We have analysed the actions taken by the Turkish government and its agents since December 2013 and have unanimously concluded that there has been a distinct reversal in the reform process that had been taking place since Turkey began accession talks with the European Union in 2005,” the four British authors state.
“We regard this as a serious setback for Turkish democracy and its respect for human rights, in particular for the freedom of speech and the rule of law.
“From the perspective of international human rights law, we consider that the Turkish government has perpetrated significant human rights violations against supporters of the Gülen movement that would justify legal action before the European Court of Human Rights, in the absence of suitable remedies in Turkey.”
The media and criminal justice system in particular, the report says, have been targeted. Radio and TV stations have had broadcasts suspended. Social media have been subject to bans which authorise removal of content from websites in some cases without having first obtained a court order, it states.
“The arrest and detention of journalists, media executives, police officers, public prosecutors and judges who are perceived to be supporters of the Hizmet movement, and their treatment in custody, has raised serious concerns about violations of their right to liberty and security,” it notes.
One of the most prominent victims the report identifies is Hidayet Karaca, chief executive of Samanyolu Media Group, who was arrested last December on the “dubious allegation” of establishing a terrorist organisation.
Karaca, Ekrem Dumanlı, editor in chief of Zaman newspaper, and other newspaper journalists, producers and scriptwriters of a television drama are accused of conspiring against an Islamist group. Karaca and 63 detained police officers remain in prison, the report said, “notwithstanding that an order was made by a competent court” for their release on bail.
The report estimates that approximately 40,000 police officers, civil servants, judges and public prosecutors have been removed from their posts since the December 2013 corruption investigation into Erdogan’s close circle.
Sir Edward Garnier told the Guardian: “Given the way the [Turkish] courts are being undermined … there’s an absence of any realistic prospect of a remedy in the domestic courts.” The constitutional court remains “a last beacon”, he added, but is overwhelmed with cases. “It’s possible, we believe, for those who are aggrieved to go directly to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They would have to take legal advice but the situation is not too optimistic in Turkey.”
Last year, the ECHR handed down to Turkey 101 judgments confirming violations of human rights; only Russia lost more cases at Strasbourg. The report dates the worsening of human rights in Turkey to the government’s “repressive” response to the 2013 popular Gezi Park demonstrations against the government in Istanbul.
Alp Aslandogan, a spokesman for the Journalist and Writers Foundation, told the Guardian: “There has been subjugation of the judiciary and the media. The Gulen movement has been chosen as a scapegoat to justify the government’s authoritarian actions.”
The Turkish embassy has not responded to requests for comment.
Source: The Guardian, (Sunday, September 27, 2015)