Saturday 10 December 2016

West warns Turkey as Erdogan suspends key human rights law

Josie Ensor

Published 22/07/2016 | 02:30

A Turkish girl wearing a headband bearing the name of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves her national flag during a pro-government demonstration in front of the old parliament building, in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Hussein Malla/AP
A Turkish girl wearing a headband bearing the name of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves her national flag during a pro-government demonstration in front of the old parliament building, in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Hussein Malla/AP

Turkey has suspended the European Convention on Human Rights after declaring a three-month state of emergency, prompting fears of a further crackdown on freedoms in the wake of the failed coup.

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The White House warned Ankara that the international community "will be watching" as it took the decision, which came as parliament approved President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement of extraordinary rule, granting him decree powers.

While some rights in the Convention - such as the right to life, and the ban on retroactive punishment and torture - cannot be suspended, Turkey's European neighbours fear a continued erosion of democracy and freedoms.

Eight states have taken suspensions from the ECHR, including the UK during the Troubles in the North and after the US 9/11 terrorist attacks. France opted out of some of the convention's aspects during an emergency state implemented in November 2015, after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people.

The president's widespread post-coup purge has raised serious concerns in the West about the regression of democracy in Turkey.

The latest decision could move the country further away from being granted membership of the European Union, which has already warned the president against veering from the democratic rule of law.

Yesterday, Austria became the first country to take diplomatic action over the purge, saying it would summon the Turkish ambassador to discuss Ankara's "increasingly authoritarian" behaviour and allegations it had been behind recent Turkish protests in Vienna.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, urged Turkey to end the state of emergency as swiftly as possible, warning that extraordinary rule lasting longer than three months would "exacerbate tensions inside Turkey and harm Turkey itself".

The UK's Foreign Affairs Committee said it would begin an inquiry into Britain's relationship with Turkey and the impact of the post-coup crackdown, in which thousands of people have been arrested and close to 50,000 suspended from their jobs.

Mehmet Simsek, Turkey's deputy prime minister, yesterday tried to dispel fears that the country would return to the deep repression seen the last time it was under similar measures.

While parliament can vote down government decrees, it is firmly in the hands of Mr Erdogan's ruling AKP. "The state of emergency in Turkey won't include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press etc. It isn't martial law of the 1990s," he said. "I'm confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy and enhanced investment climate."

Markets were less than confident. The Turkish lira was near a new record low yesterday, while the main stock index fell 4.4pc.

Simsek tried to play down the losses. "In circumstances like this, there is a knee-jerk reaction, it's typical. I know that because I come from that business," he said. "I need markets to understand that we are going to survive this shock."

But as he spoke, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a leading newspaper columnist and lawyer, was arrested at the airport as he tried to leave the country and police raided the printing house of the satirical magazine Leman.

So far, about 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or put under investigation since the failed coup.

Dozens of families waited at the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul yesterday for a glimpse of their fathers, sons and brothers detained on suspicion of involvement. One woman said that three of her soldier sons had been arrested. "I don't know how they are being treated, I have heard nothing from them. I have heard about torture," she said.

Pictures published in pro-government newspapers showed the supposed mastermind of the coup attempt, Akin Ozturk, a former Air Force commanders with a heavily bruised face and a bandaged ear.

Lt Col Levent Turkkan, the aide to Turkey's army chief, was pictured with a black eye and his torso and right hand bandaged.

Amnesty International said they were investigating reports that detained soldiers faced ill-treatment in custody and were being denied access to lawyers.

Meanwhile, eight Turkish suspected plotters who fled to Greece after the attempted putsch were yesterday given a two-month suspended sentence for illegally entering the country.

For some Turks, the move raised fears of a return to the days of martial law after a 1980 coup, or the height of a Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s when much of the southeast was under a state of emergency.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the state of emergency was aimed at averting a possible second coup.

The Geneva-based jurists' group, ICJ, weighed in, with its secretary-general, Wilder Tayler, saying: "There are human rights that can never be restricted even in a state of emergency. The current allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and arbitrary arrests already point to serious violations of human rights," he said (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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