Turkey eases detention rules thanks to European anchor

Turkey eases detention rules thanks to European anchor

The Turkish government has eased certain stringent state of emergency (SoE) rules ahead of a crucial vote in the Council of Europe demanding an urgent debate on the “functioning of democratic institutions” in Turkey.

The government issued four new decrees with force of law late on Jan. 22 regarding the “better functioning of the SoE,” in the words of spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş in his Jan. 23 press conference. The state of emergency was declared by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) shortly after the foiled military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Hours after the decrees went into effect, published in the Official Gazette early on Jan. 23, a proposal in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) calling for an “urgent” debate to discuss the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey was turned down after failing to get the necessary two-thirds majority. If voted for, the proposal could have further affected Turkey’s reputation negatively in the Council - of which Turkey is a founding member - and further weaken Ankara’s links with European institutions.

With the decrees, the government decreased the legal detention-without-charge period to seven days, from 30 days (it was four days before the SoE). It also guaranteed immediate access to lawyers (which could be denied for up to five days previously under the SoE). These are two of the major complaints from critics of the SoE, as tens and thousands of people have been detained on claims of being involved in the coup attempt and having links with the secret network of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the U.S. and accused of masterminding the plot.

In addition, a commission will be established to investigate complaints regarding detentions, dismissals from jobs, dismissals from universities, and the closure of companies (including media companies), unions, associations, etc. This commission will work for the next two years, and all those who are not satisfied with its decisions will still be able to go to the courts to try to correct their problems.

Levent Gök, a spokesman for the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has criticized the move to set up the commission as an attempt to block citizens’ right to apply directly to the courts, particularly the Constitutional Court. 

Nevertheless, the decrees could be considered as an insufficient but necessary easing of the SoE circumstances in Turkey, and could be read as an attempt by the government to prevent further severing of ties with European institutions. Despite the anti-Western rhetoric within the government circles (AK Parti deputy Şamil Tayyar recently denounced NATO as a “terrorist organization”) and the ongoing cooperation with Russia over Syria, the government’s official policy remains sticking with the West at present.

Broadly, the example of the four decrees shows the importance of Turkey’s relations with the West for the sake of improving the political atmosphere in Turkey. It also shows the importance of the West not “losing Turkey” – strategically speaking - in a world where all political balances are likely to be redefined under the presidency of Donald Trump in the US.