EU-Turkey Ties

The Rule of Law, Turkey Style

Woman in red at Gezi park protest on Taksim square
Definitely not the way an EU country should deal with peaceful protesters. Source: Reuters.

The cat is finally out of the bag. Backed into a corner in a TV duel with her rival, Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz, Chancellor Angela Merkel finally admitted  that Turkey should never become a member of the European Union. But this should come as no surprise, as the German leader merely reverted to her previous position of opposition to Turkey’s membership.

It was only in the autumn of 2015 when Ms. Merkel realized the consequences of her open-door policy – Germany was becoming the Mecca of Middle Eastern migration. She promptly engaged in desperate backpedaling, making “the dirty deal” with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Enthroned with Mr. Erdogan in his Istanbul palace, she not only handed the president the keys to the door – a revival of accession talks, visa liberalization, a seat at the table and €3 billion ($3.6 billion) for refugees – she also bolstered his party’s prospects of electoral success a fortnight later.

The following March, in a late night meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attended by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Ms. Merkel upped the ante to €6 billion and added other sweeteners. The whole deal was presented the next day as a fait accompli to her astounded EU colleagues. In the plane on the way home, Mr. Davutoglu boasted he had used bazaar trading tactics. Now events have caught up with the chancellor, causing her to reverse her position.

Earlier, prisoners could be held for five years before coming to trial, but this period has been extended to seven years.

The failed coup against Erdogan’s regime has had reverberations well beyond Turkey’s borders. Apart from the 486 who are on trial for taking part in the coup, 50,000 have been arrested, 170,000 have been investigated (the earlier term was “detained”) and some 150,000 have lost their jobs, suspected of belonging to the Islamist Gülen movement, which has been accused of masterminding the coup.

Turkey’s 381 prisons, built to accommodate 202,000, are subject to overcrowding, with 22,000 inmates being forced to sleep on the floor. Construction has been the main driver of Turkey’s growth since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2002 and prisons are no exception. Some 38 were constructed last year; 76 more are under construction and 131 are in the pipeline.

Last year, 38,000 prisoners were released to make room for new arrivals after the attempted coup, and a further 3,000 will be released on probation to cope with overcrowding. Unfortunately, there are no signs of diminished demand. Earlier, prisoners could be held for five years before coming to trial, but in two new decrees, this period has been extended to seven years, which in itself constitutes a punishment.

Furthermore, in a maneuver to outwit the European Court of Human Rights, the Turkish government has established a state of emergency commission to examine complaints about dismissals. The Turkish Constitutional Court has already referred 70,000 complaints to this commission and the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg has rejected 12,600 cases for the same reason: a failure to exhaust domestic remedies. So there are a number of hurdles to be overcome before plaintiffs can join the queue in Strasbourg.

A mother has been held hostage to force her son to surrender, a wife has been detained because they couldn’t catch her husband, a son has been arrested to get at his father.

One particularly unpleasant aspect of the current purge is the way Mr. Erdogan’s regime also targets pregnant women and mothers. There are numerous examples of women who have been detained together with their babies immediately after giving birth. In one case, the mother was handcuffed to her bed after delivery  and in another she was detained and transferred to a police station together with her baby 240 kilometers (150 miles) from home. It is estimated that 668 children under the age of 6, including 149 infants younger than 12 months, celebrated the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha together with their mothers in pre-trial detention last week.

Another unpleasant aspect is the revival of the practice of Sippenhaft, or holding the rest of the family responsible for the behavior of one of its members. A mother has been held hostage to force her son to surrender, a wife has been detained because they couldn’t catch her husband, a son has been arrested to get at his father, and a mother of four has been arrested, leaving her children to fend for themselves, as the police failed to arrest her husband. The wife of former editor-in-chief Can Dündar has been banned from leaving to join her husband in Germany.

On Friday last week, after two more German nationals were arrested in Turkey, bringing the total to 12 held on political charges, Germany’s Green Party co-chair Cem Özdemir called Mr. Erdogan more of a hostage-taker than a head of state. Ms. Merkel has criticized Turkey’s misuse of Interpol to issue a red notice against German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli in Spain. Interpol has since cancelled the notice. PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) rapporteur Bernd Fabritius has similarly condemned Turkey’s abuse of the red notice system to persecute human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

In July, Turkey withdrew its request to Interpol to investigate 681 German companies for “terror links,” and Germany has also rejected a request from Turkey to freeze the assets of members of the Gülen movement in Germany. However, Germany should not feel it is alone. Two of the outstanding issues that Turkey has with the United States are its demand for the extradition of the head of the Gülen movement, Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen, who is resident in Pennsylvania, and also the dropping of charges against Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who has been indicted for conspiring to evade sanctions in Iran. In return, American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been charged by a Turkish court with attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrow the Turkish parliament.

Likewise, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron recently called his Turkish counterpart and asked for the release of a French journalist, Loup Bureau. When he was asked in an interview whether it was “cool” to be a world leader, Macron replied: “Not really. I am the one who has to talk to Erdogan every 10 days.” Perhaps now he realizes what Chancellor Merkel has to contend with.


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