Turkey’s state of emergency ends but crackdown continues

Human rights groups call for authorities to end climate of fear after two-year emergency

A tank crashes into a car as people take to streets in Ankara, Turkey during a protest against an attempted military coup on July 16th, 2016. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

A tank crashes into a car as people take to streets in Ankara, Turkey during a protest against an attempted military coup on July 16th, 2016. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Turkey’s two-year state of emergency came to an end at midnight on Wednesday, but as trials of dissidents and journalists continue human rights campaigners have said Ankara must do more to reverse a “suffocating” crackdown on free speech.

Critics say the state of emergency, in place since a failed coup attempt in July 2016 that killed 250 people and wounded 1,400, has been used to detain opponents of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his government for lengthy periods without trial and to intimidate dissidents and prosecute media outlets.

More than 120,000 people in the police, military, academia, media and civil service have been detained or dismissed from their jobs over their alleged links to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher based in the US whose supporters Ankara blames for the coup.

“Over the last two years, Turkey has been radically transformed with emergency measures used to consolidate draconian powers, silence critical voices and strip away basic rights,” said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe.

“The lifting of the state of emergency alone will not reverse this crackdown. What is needed is systematic action to restore respect for human rights, allow civil society to flourish again and lift the suffocating climate of fear that has engulfed the country.”

Turkey’s government has said it will not seek a renewal of the state of emergency, allowing it to lapse two years after it was imposed and days after Mr Erdogan was sworn in as president for a fresh five-year term with extraordinary new powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year.

Judges dismissed

Critics say the use of the emergency powers went beyond Gülenists linked to the coup. About a quarter of Turkey’s judges have either been dismissed or detained, a vast realignment of the judiciary that has prompted outrage and concerns that it is no longer independent.

Thousands have been tried, with many sentenced to life, for involvement in the coup and 100 people have been extradited to Turkey at the behest of the country’s intelligence service, the MIT.

The crackdown has also increased tensions with western allies such as the EU and the US. On Wednesday a court in the city of Izmir ruled for the continued detention of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor accused of having Gülenist links, in a move that could prompt congressional sanction and that was described by an official at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom as a “mockery of justice”.

Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party has tabled a controversial anti-terrorism Bill that will retain some of the state of emergency measures. One provision allows local governors to impose curfews or make some areas off-limits to the public, making it easier to ban demonstrations.

The government also appears determined to continue its prosecutions of journalists and opponents.

“Because now in the new system all state power is [held] by President Erdogan, there is no need [for] emergency law,” said Pelin Ünker, an economy correspondent at Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, who is being sued because of her and a colleague’s reporting on the former prime minister Binali Yildirim’s sons’ stake in offshore shipping companies, revealed in the Paradise Papers.

Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, ahead of China and Egypt, with more than 120 imprisoned since the coup attempt. Cumhuriyet journalists have been prosecuted in numerous court cases, with some, including the current editor-in-chief, appealing against convictions of up to 7½ years in jail.

Mr Erdogan’s son-in-law and finance minister, Berat Albayrak, is also suing the journalists because of their reporting on offshore investments listed in the Paradise Papers, a move that the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders condemned as threatening the survival of independent media outlets reporting on corruption.

“Independent media outlets are fewer now than the fingers on one hand,” said Mr Ünker. “Journalism is our job so we have to do it in all conditions, even in the face of such duress and injustice.”

Further dismissals

But the crackdown appeared to have barely slowed even as the end of the state of emergency approached. A day before Mr Erdogan was sworn in, another 18,600 public servants were dismissed over alleged links to terror groups, and on Tuesday academics who had signed a petition calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Kurdish separatists were sentenced to prison.

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the largest opposition bloc, the Republican People’s party (CHP), vowed in a party congress to challenge what he described as a “dictatorship” and one-man rule. But on Wednesday the government said it was launching an investigation against Mr Kiliçdaroglu for insulting the president, an allegation frequently used to intimidate critics, over a cartoon mocking the Turkish president that was shared on social media.

The continued prosecutions offer a hint that, even though Mr Erdogan is secure in his control of the state’s levers of power and authority, there will be little immediate relief for dissidents.

“I think state of emergency has served its purpose, both politically and practically,” said Selim Can Sazak, a Turkey expert and adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation. “The job is almost complete. Hundreds of thousands purged. Some Gülenists, apparently, but many others not. Universities, bureaucracy, media, etc, largely subdued.” – Guardian