Respect for democratic freedoms is an urgent priority for Turkey
The arrest and prosecution of 11 Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Fiden Yüksekdağ, is a very negative development against democratic stability in Turkey.
Since shortly after the failed military coup attempt of July 15, the Turkish government has been implementing emergency law. To a certain degree, fear and threats regarding political stability could be understood after the coup attempt. Nonetheless, after five months, the continued violation of human rights and democratic liberties has to be put under scrutiny. Turkey must abide by the international conventions that all democratic regimes have signed and respected.
A large number of media outlets and broadcasting networks have been seized or brought under control by the government, generating concerns over free and pluralistic information. Similar concerns are expressed regarding academia and the public sector, with a growing part of the population silently fearful of being prosecuted next by the state.
The role of opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has not been at all constructive. In fact, it has been disappointing. Essentially, neither of these two political parties, especially the CHP, have been mobilized to secure democratic freedoms and stand firmly against violations of human rights.
Many voices abroad, especially within EU institutions, would favor a more active role of the CHP against current developments in Turkey. On media freedom and the respectful treatment of elected MPs, the CHP leadership should assume a clearer stance.
The European Commission has expressed concerns on recent developments in Turkey, emphasizing police raids against HDP lawmakers. Still, the Commission’s viewpoint is problematic, as it exhausts its role with mere verbal warnings without resorting to specific actions.
From its part, the European Parliament has repeatedly expressed discontent over the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) policy on human rights violations. But the problem is more complicated. The Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are following a controversial path that could end up in further rights restrictions and the de facto establishment of an intolerant regime or semi-parliamentary democracy.
In this context, there is no reason to impose any kind of sanctions on Turkey or freeze EU membership talks. Rather, EU institutions should exert pressure on the government to implement every rule stemming from international public law and international conventions on human rights. The Turkish people, and the parties that stood against the military coup last July in order to protect democracy, should act accordingly and press the AKP government to immediately release the HDP’s lawmakers.
*Dimitrios Papadimoulis is vice president of the European Parliament and the head of Greece’s Syriza delegation.