Has Turkey really lifted the state of emergency?

Has Turkey really lifted the state of emergency?

One of the first things the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did after the establishment of the new government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early July was to cease the state of emergency which had been introduced mid-July 2016 following a coup attempt carried out by the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). 

This move had been interpreted as a move toward normalization in Turkey after a two-year-long tense political period which had observed a contested referendum that shifted the country’s parliamentary system into an executive-presidential model and heated twin elections in June 2018.

Although the main objective of the emergency rule was to fight against the coup plotters and to clear the state apparatus from undercover members of FETÖ, it also targeted political opponents and dissidents from various walks of life, such as academics, journalists, and activists.

That was why the government’s decision not to extend the emergency rule was regarded as a step taken in the right direction both inside and outside Turkey, particularly among those who have long been calling on the government to return to its democratization agenda.

However, a number of moves by the government since July have revealed that a genuine return to the normalization of the political landscape will take time. As can be recalled, just a few days after the termination of the state of emergency, the government introduced a 29-article security bill that grants excessive powers to governors and other state bodies for a three-year term.

Opposition parties had described the bill as the de facto continuation of the state of emergency, while the government said it was a part of its ongoing fight against multiple terrorist organizations, namely FETÖ, the PKK, and the YPG.

Again in the post-state of emergency rule, restrictions continued to be in place when it came to the right to assemble and freedom of expression. In August, the government issued a ban on the weekly sit-in protests of the Saturday Mothers who were set to gather for their 700th week near Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Most recently, a draft law that restricts employing doctors and all medical staff who were dismissed through emergency decrees issued under the state of emergency created controversy. Even in the absence of a court decision, it imposed a ban on the employment of these health professionals believed to be affiliated with terror organizations by state hospitals and private hospitals which are part of the state’s social security system. The number of health professionals that would be affected by this legislation exceeds 10,000, according to media reports.

One important criticism against the government was its failure to create an efficient and real remedy system for hundreds of thousands of people who have been dismissed from their jobs due to alleged links to FETÖ. A commission set up to look into the appeals made by around 125,000 people has accepted only around 40,000 of them and reinstated only 2,700 people to their jobs, according to figures provided by Fuat Oktay, the vice president. These figures raise questions over the extent the commission was able to redress the suffering of the victims.

There were also some identical individual cases during this period. Osman Kavala, a well-known businessman and civil society advocate, has been in prison for more than a year without an indictment. Neither he nor his lawyers have access to the dossier as there is a confidentially order on it.

No doubt, this list could be broadened with other human rights violations. However, all these sufficiently show that the government needs to do more in reversing this picture and convincing public opinion that the state of emergency has been lifted in real terms. As a matter of fact, that will not only help heal Turkey-EU ties but also accelerate the normalization process in the country.