Monday 19 March 2018

Turkey to extend state of emergency amid freedom concerns

The measure has allowed a massive government crackdown aimed at suspected supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

There are fears the state of emergency has amounted to a power grab for Turkey's president (AP)
There are fears the state of emergency has amounted to a power grab for Turkey's president (AP)

By Suzan Fraser

Turkey is set to extend a state of emergency for the sixth time since it was imposed following a failed 2016 coup attempt, prompting concerns that the special powers are pushing the country in an increasingly authoritarian direction.

The state of emergency, declared five days after the coup on July 15 2016, has allowed a massive government crackdown aimed at suspected supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey said was behind the insurrection. Mr Gulen has denied any involvement.

The state of emergency has also paved the way for the arrest of other government opponents, including activists, journalists and politicians as well as the closure of media and non-governmental organisations over alleged links to extremist groups.

Most crucially, it has allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rule through decrees, often bypassing parliament, which he has long accused of slowing down his government’s ability to perform.

Mr Erdogan has issued a number of controversial decrees (AP)

Among the more than 30 decrees issued since the coup, some have regulated the use of winter tyres, obliged detainees accused of links to extremism to wear uniforms in court, and gave full employment rights to temporary workers.

One vaguely-worded decree granting legal immunity to civilians who helped thwart the coup sparked an outcry amid fears that it would encourage vigilante groups.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s pro-secular main opposition party, accused Mr Erdogan of taking advantage of the failed military coup to trample on democracy and lead a “civilian coup” of his own through his emergency powers.

“What have winter tyres got to do with the state of emergency?” he asked.

“Through the decrees with the force of law, the government can now do whatever it pleases. The constitution is of no importance. The government has obtained the power to carry out all unlawful arrangements.”

Turkey’s National Security Council is meeting on Wednesday to recommend prolonging the state of emergency by a further three months, before the extension is due to be approved by the Council of Ministers later in the day and voted on in parliament on Thursday. Its current term expires on January 19.

A young boy recites a nationalistic poem in parliament for President Erdogan (AP)

The government has defended its move to extend the emergency rule pointing to the severity of the coup attempt — during which rogue soldiers attacked parliament and other state buildings, leading to more than 250 deaths — and citing a continued security threat from Mr Gulen’s network of supporters.

Mr Erdogan has said the state of emergency will remain as long as security threats persist. Few believe that the Turkish leader will allow the emergency rule to end before a presidential election in 2019, when a set of constitutional amendments, narrowly approved in a referendum in April, come into effect, giving the president sweeping powers.

Observers said Mr Erdogan is unlikely to take any step that would put a victory at the 2019 election at risk, including ending the state of emergency that has permitted authorities to ban public gatherings, which some say limited opposition parties’ ability to run effective campaigns during the referendum.

Press Association

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