State of human rights in Turkey hits new lows

State of human rights in Turkey hits new lows

There is no doubt that Aslı Erdoğan is one of Turkey’s most prominent novelists, who has earned an international reputation thanks to her 18 books translated into many languages. On Europe Day, May 9, she was due to receive the very prestigious Princess Margriet Award for Culture in Amsterdam, from the European Cultural Foundation, but she was unable to travel there as she is currently barred from traveling outside the country. 

Erdoğan was released on probation on Dec. 29, 2016 after being held in prison for 136 days on terror charges in the case into the shuttered daily Özgür Gündem. The court subsequently banned her from traveling abroad. 

“I’m still a prisoner. The ban on leaving the country reminds me this. I’m just in a bigger cell than before,” she told daily Hürriyet in an interview on May 9. Erdoğan also recalled that there are still 163 journalists behind bars in Turkey. “This is terrible. This figure speaks for itself. It shows that some lines in Turkey have been crossed enormously,” she said.

Erdoğan is just one victim of the continued crackdown on government opponents in Turkey, which has intensified under the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt. 

Turkey has been under state of emergency rule since July 21, 2016. This grants vast rights to the government, including bypassing parliament through decree laws. The government has issued 23 broad-ranging decree laws up to now, which have resulted in massive human rights breaches. Around 40,000 people have been imprisoned on charges of being a member of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), while more than 100,000 civil servants have been dismissed on the same accusations. Hundreds of newspapers, TV channels, and civil society organizations have also been shut down, making the picture even worse. 

The government had promised to establish a commission to probe wrongdoings and complaints during the state of emergency, but it has not yet delivered an efficient mechanism. Those who are suffering during this process are therefore left with no means to seek judicial redress. The very principles of freedom of expression, right to assembly and the rule of law have seriously deteriorated, as the justice system is almost under full governmental control. 

Among the many sufferers are two young educators who were dismissed from their universities after they signed a peace petition along with hundreds of their colleagues. Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça launched a hunger strike 63 days ago after numerous attempts to return to their jobs proved futile. 

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy parliamentary group chair Filiz Kerestecioğlu recently sent letters to European Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland asking for help for these two academics, whose health conditions have become critical.    

“The number of academics dismissed by decree laws is 4,811. Some 378 of these academics are members of the Academics for Peace initiative and signed the petition titled ‘We will not be part of this crime,’ criticizing the militaristic policies of the Turkish government in Kurdish provinces. Some 37 out of the almost 150,000 employees who have lost their jobs have committed suicide,” Keresticioğlu wrote in her letter. 

“The fact that in a country academics and educators are going on hunger strikes to get their voices heard is a big shame for that country,” she added. 

It is certainly a shame for Turkey that its state of human rights and level of democracy are hitting new lows with every passing day, particularly after the April 16 referendum.