Human Rights Threatened in Today’s Turkey

March 26, 2018 Updated: March 26, 2018    

For almost a century, Turkey has been an internationally-admired Muslim-majority democracy. Under its World War 1 hero and founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turks obtained full independence in 1923, and later the rule of law, universal literacy, separation of state and religion, rights for women, and NATO membership.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP party were for years impressive. He was elected mayor of Istanbul (1994), prime minister (2003-2014) and president (2014). The economy improved markedly from 2003-2008; he temporarily wound down a 30-year conflict with Turkey’s 15-million-strong Kurdish community, which had cost an estimated 40,000 lives; and accepted 2.5 million refugees from Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

Tragically, Erdoğan has since severely undermined Turkey’s democracy and rule of law. In 2013, when a corruption scandal broke involving him and his cabinet, no-one was charged. Judges, prosecutors and police were quickly re-assigned. Fethullah Gülen, the cleric and founder of the Gülen Movement/Hizmet (GM), who had supported him when they both sought membership in the EU and further democratization of Turkey, broke with him over corruption and has since been declared “a terrorist” by Erdoğan.

American academic Sophia Pandya describes the GM:

“[It] defines itself as a Sufism-inspired, civil society humanitarian organization … (with) thousands of educational, charitable, and cultural organizations (globally) … Gülen has … denied any personal or institutional involvement [in the attempted July 2016 coup by saying] ‘If there are … officers among the coup plotters who consider themselves … sympathizer(s) of Hizmet [Gülen] movement, …  [they committed treason against the unity of [Turkey] by (participating) in an event where their own citizens lost their lives.’”

A packed forum on Turkey hosted by the Anatolian Heritage Federation was held recently within Canada’s Parliament.

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International (AI) Canada, noted that Taner Kılıç, president of AI Turkey, remains in prison for allegedly supporting the so-called “terrorist organization FETÖ” (of Gulen), adding, “(AI) in its 57 years never experienced anything like this before…anyone can be detained and arrested for having a communication app Bylock or sending their child to a Gülen Movement affiliated school or having a bank account in Bank Asya…Turkey [now has)] the highest number of jailed journalists …Why silence from Canada and the rest of the world?”

Government MP Michael Levitt, chair of the House of Commons human rights sub-committee, said: “Families are torn apart. Academics, media professionals, students, and… ordinary people … are being … [detained] without charge…The repression of democracy [is] something that [concerns us deeply]”

Green Party leader Elizabeth May declared, “I am horrified by the behaviour of the Turkish government… This has not been raised by the United Nations or traditional allies… we as allies of Turkey cannot accept this behavior to go on; we need to be speaking out more forcefully”.

According to a report issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein last week (March 20):

The numbers are just staggering: nearly 160,000 people arrested during an 18-month state of emergency; 152,000 civil servants dismissed, many totally arbitrarily; teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted; journalists arrested, media outlets shut down and websites blocked…One of the most alarming findings of the report is how Turkish authorities reportedly detained some 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth, mostly on the grounds that they were ‘associates’ of their husbands, who are suspected of being connected to terrorist organizations. Some were detained with their children and others violently separated from them. This is simply outrageous, utterly cruel, and surely cannot have anything whatsoever to do with making the country safer.

The ongoing and renewed state of emergency allows Erdoğan and his ministers to bypass Parliament in enacting new laws, further limiting basic rights. Their goal appears to be to remove all elements of Atatürk’s secular state, which Turks have defended with their lives over the past nine decades. Turkey’s global friends can only hope that Erdoğan will accept the real lessons of July 15 and move back towards national reconciliation, democracy, and the rule of law.

Former Canadian Secretary of State, Hon. David Kilgour

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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