Human Rights in Turkey: Purging Dissidents

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ANKARA — On July 5, 10 activists for human rights in Turkey were arrested while holding a workshop on an island near Istanbul. Among those jailed was Idil Eser, director of Amnesty International in Turkey.

The activists are accused of being members of an unspecified “armed terrorist organization.” Their detainment has been extended, drawing censure from Amnesty International, the U.S. and the EU.

While attending a digital security and information management workshop at a hotel on the island of Buyukada, Eser and nine others were physically removed and taken to various jails in Istanbul.

The arrests come less than a month after a Turkish court called for the arrest of Taner Kilic, chairman of Amnesty International’s Turkey branch, for similar charges. Kilic remains in jail.

Turkey has been in a government-mandated state of emergency since July 2016, when rogue soldiers conducted a failed coup d’état in the capital of Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to lift the state of emergency, saying Turkey still faces threats of terrorism. Over the past year, thousands of journalists, activists and government and military personnel have been jailed, suspected of connections to the unsuccessful putsch.

Erdogan has been accused by nations and human rights organizations alike for using the failed coup as an excuse to silence critics and give himself sweeping executive powers. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said recently that Turkey’s purging of its military is coming to an end — 7,655 personnel have been dismissed — yet the jailing of journalists and civilians critical of the Erdogan regime continues, and the state of emergency remains in place.

The coup happened on July 15, 2016, when soldiers driving tanks and aircraft bombed government buildings, attempting to kidnap or assassinate Erdogan and install a secular, military government. At least 246 people were killed, and images of tanks running over civilians were broadcasted internationally.

Human rights in Turkey, especially in regards to free speech, have deteriorated since that time. About 160 media outlets have been shut down in response to the attempted coup. Zaman, previously one of Turkey’s most circulated papers, was put under state control. Following the failed coup, arrest warrants for all 47 of Zaman’s staff were immediately issued.Another 44 papers were shut down, as well as 16 TV channels and 23 radio stations. The Turkish government also revoked the licenses of at least 715 journalists, while nearly 2,000 more journalists were fired from their jobs.

Another 44 papers were shut down, as well as 16 TV channels and 23 radio stations. The Turkish government also revoked the licenses of at least 715 journalists, while nearly 2,000 more journalists were fired from their jobs.

Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog organization, has lowered Turkey’s rank on the press-freedom index to 151. Despite Erdogan telling the BBC, “no one is jailed for journalism here,” the Committee to Protect Journalists claims that Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.

In total, at least 50,000 people have been arrested in the past year in Turkey, all in relation to the July 2016 coup attempt.

While Turkey does face legitimate security threats — police recently killed five so-called Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Konya — the majority of its political prisoners have been arrested for peaceful dissent, including the recent 10 detainees. Out of the 50,000 plus arrested, only 233 have been suspected members of ISIS.

Turkey blames self-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen for orchestrating the failed coup, a charge that Gülen vehemently denies. Gülen is an influential Islamic cleric who has lived in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999, and says he has never supported any coup.

According to Reuters, Erdogan has asked President Trump directly for Gülen’s extradition to Turkey. While the Justice Department says that there is not enough evidence to comply with Erdogan’s request, Erdogan says he will pursue it “to the end.”

The U.S. has also expressed concern about Erdogan’s latest batch of political arrests, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert taking a shot at the state of human rights in Turkey.

“As with past arrests of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, academics, and activists, we underscore the importance of respecting due process and individual rights, as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution and consistent with Turkey’s own international commitments. More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times,” Nauert said.

Furthermore, Erdogan’s suppression of activists and journalists critical of human rights in Turkey has damaged Turkey’s chances of getting into the EU. After Erdogan’s response to the failed coup, the EU shelved Turkey’s requests for accession, citing the lack of political freedom in Turkey.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn asked Turkish officials about the detention of the 10 human rights activists. However, he “didn’t get a sufficient answer about it.”

The good news is Turkey is invested in joining the EU and has been trying to join the partnership for more than a decade. Pressure to release journalists is finally manifesting: Sweden has summoned the Turkish ambassador to talk about the matter, and the German Ambassador was granted access to German nationals jailed in the country.

The condemnation is breaking some ground. Human rights in Turkey will have to improve if Turkey wishes to avoid alienation. Communication between Turkey and nations that are less than happy with the jailing of journalists is a good start.

David McLellan
Photo: Flickr

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David McLellan

David writes for The Borgen Project from Hamilton, MA. His academic interests include Journalism and he can speak Mandarin Chinese fluently.

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