The death penalty issue

The death penalty issue

At every opportunity, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been supporting the re-installment of capital punishment. The other evening, when the crowds around the Beştepe Palace demanded the death penalty, he told them that the capital punishment to be reinstated in the future could be expanded to cover the coup plotters of July 15. 

The meaning of this is that if the death penalty is reintroduced in the future, it would be retroactive. The president has this opinion, but the government keeps its distance. 

There have been serious statements from members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Deputy chair Hayati Yazıcı said reinstating capital punishment would be wrong and even if so, it would not be retroactive. 

Mehmet Ali Şahin, a former justice minister, spoke in the northern province of Karabük on Aug. 11, answering crowds demanding the death penalty by saying, “Remember the Ergenekon and Balyoz [Sledgehammer] cases.” He told them that the death penalty was a very delicate matter. He said negative rulings would not be retroactive. The current justice minister has not spoken on this matter yet. 

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım does not mention the “death penalty.” When spectators shouted “death penalty” at his party’s parliamentary meeting, he replied that the traitors would be punished with the heaviest penalty. Well, our heaviest penalty is an aggravated life sentence. 

During the political reforms in Ottoman times, a modern penal code was prepared. At that time in the world (1839), any assassination attempt against a president, or a sultan, would result in the death penalty. Great law person Cevdet Pasha included this in the draft. Şevket Pasha opposed this by saying assassinating the sultan was not in anybody’s mind, so it should not even be written in the law. That article was taken out. The law was enacted on Aug. 8, 1858, as such. However, on Sept. 14 the next year, the “Kuleli incident” occurred; a gang planning to assassinate Sultan Abdulmecid was caught. 

Cevdet Pasha opposed those who wanted to hang these men; it was not in the law. They did not install a death penalty that would be retroactive. The assassins were sentenced for “attempted murder.” 

Today, we have aggravated life sentences in our laws. When Cevdet Pasha referred to an organized state, he was defending a state of law. He defended this not only because he was a legislator but also for the Ottoman state’s diplomacy.  

Capital punishment in Turkey today is a legal and diplomatic problem. It is beyond the excitements of mass psychology. It is a legal expertise issue as well as a foreign policy issue at a time when we need to “increase our friends.”

If capital punishment is being mentioned just because of the sentiment of the masses, then this works against us in foreign policy. The Danish ruling party proposed to end Turkey’s EU accession because of the death penalty debate. 

If the image of the country continues to erode due to these declarations, it will be us who would be harmed at the end. Even the extradition of Fethullah Gülen would be quiet difficult. Experts in the justice and foreign affairs ministries, together with esteemed law professors, should prepare a scientific report. The president and the prime minister should discuss this and reach a conclusion. 

Turkey has to be an organized state, in other words a country that would be trusted for its constancy on basic rules of law. We should avoid creating images of driving away from the basic principles of law.