Turkey: the temptation to legalise the violation of human rights
While Turkey gets ready for a crucial general election on June 7th, more than 40% of voters say they would not trust the results and are afraid of major electoral fraud. In this context, the recent vote by the Turkish parliament on 'internal security' legislation is not reassuring. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan allows for the legalisation of certain human rights violations. Here academic Ibrahim Kaboğlu, a prominent figure in Turkish society, reacts against this security policy that started in the wake of the Gezi Park demonstrations.
Turkey is no holy land for human rights, and exposing its constant violations is a crusade. It is the path chosen by Ibrahim Kaboğlu, a professor from Marmara University in Istanbul. Before explaining how this security storm hovering above Turkey formed, this specialist in constitutional law welcomes us with humility, and amid books and decorations, into his small office overlooking the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus. “I have answered the call concerning problems with human rights,” he says.
Gezi is not over
We must go back two years ago to understand the crisis that is presently shaking the political Turkish world. In June 2013 Ibrahim Kaboğlu was surprised by the Gezi park protest. “Such a protest was unexpected. I went there as a citizen but also as the president of the Constitutionalist Association.” In the name of this association over which he presides, and in front of the protesters, he criticised police violations that went against the universal principals of human rights.
Ibrahim Kaboğlu admits that he hadn’t anticipated the level of repression of this populist movement. When the demonstrators were chased from the city centre of Istanbul, Ibrahim joined jurists, lawyers, doctors, NGO’s representatives to create the Gezi Legal Observatory. Then started a detailed investigation that led to the report 'Turkey : between democracy and totalitarianism', published in December 2014.
“The investigation explores how the government has worked to reverse the rules of the game. Instead of lawsuits against police officers guilty of violence, the government proceeded to prosecute the participants in a mass trial. The goal is to discredit the members of civil society.” The authors of the report accuse the government of having created false allegations in order to tarnish civic associations as terrorist associations.
Soon to be published in English, the report will be sent to the European Court of Human Rights. Ibrahim Kaboğlu intends to denounce what happened then, but also what is still happening. “Gezi is not over. Lawsuits are pending against police officers and against injured demonstrators. We are bringing them to show the impunity that protects law enforcement.”
The conspiracy theory
The consequences of the Gezi storm have not disappeared yet either, especially for the demonstrators under the hammer of injustice. Gezi is also an alibi that the government uses to disrupt international relations. “For the past two years, the government has denounced the supposed complicity between demonstrators and foreign lobbyists.”
To galvanize his troops, President Erdogan keeps on mentioning in his speeches the threat of a coup d’état. He uses a variety of expressions: “obscure forces”, “traitors”, “parallel state”. The rhetoric was amplified by pro-government media who were once again put to use in December 2013 when corruption allegations involving the highest levels of power, including his son, were made public.
No! No phone conversation referring to the embezzlement of public money had been recorded. No! A cardboard box full of banknotes was never found. It was all dismissed as a conspiracy whipped up from abroad. Those accusations by the Turkish government are aimed at Pennsylvania in the United States where Fethulla Gullen, a Muslim preacher and former ally of Recep Tayip Erdogan, has become public traitor number one.
There followed an avalanche of litigation, high profile arrests, layoffs of thousands of civil servants belonging to a shadow infantry named “parallel structure” or “Gulen’s brotherhood”. Purges, phone tapping, tweets from a 'deep throat'; the country lives at the frenetic pace of a spy movie. “The government creates links between cases that have nothing to do with one another. The accusations aimed at the parallel state have been mixed up with the Gezi’s claims to amplify the threats”, says Ibrahim Kaboğlu.
The Kurdish part
A rumour mill of fear must be continuously fed if it is to carry on having an effect. In the autumn of 2014, the civil war in Syria, the mediatised barbarism of the Islamic State and the Kurdish resistance during the Kobane’s battle gave the Turkish government the chance to unelase a new wave of accusations.
In October 2014, the entry of fundamentalism in Kobane, a Syrian city bordering Turkey, and the lack of reaction from Ankara resulted in two days of demonstrations and around 40 deaths. The victims were used by the authorities as a reason to reinforce their security policies. “The government maintains double standards,” says Ibrahim Kaboğlu. “We are for peace with the Kurds, but the Kurds are a threat to public order.”
The government’s logic is : Gezi + corruption + Kurdish threat = creation of a “homeland security package”. This arsenal of hundred laws for the police, the military police, the fight against terrorism - among them the right to arrest demonstrators on their way to a demonstration - invalidates the constitutional barriers that are there to protect human rights. The legislation's introduction to Turkey's Parliament was met with a passionate response. In a rare event, the three other political parties that make up the Parliament, and who usually oppose each other, have for once joined forces to fight the plans.
An unspoken goal
Why has all this been brought in when the government already has a sophisticated and repressive judicial system? Furthermore “it never respect the laws when they are an obstacle”, says Ibrahim Kaboğlu. For this academic, the approach of parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015 and the fear of another wave of social movement, have radicalised the presidential position.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already “outside the law”. Despite a constitution that imposes a neutral status on the head of state, he behaves like a party leader. That is not enough for him. He wants to obtain enough of a majority to modify the constitution to allow, in his words, “a presidential regime.” To vote AKP would be to allow the rewriting of the constitution inherited from the military that is rejected by many sections of the Turkish political world.
Ibrahim Kaboğlu is sceptical. “Erdogan is trying to change the parliamentarian regime not in a non-presidential or a Turkish regime, but in a personal regime.” To support his thesis he cites the splendors of the presidential palace. “Unfortunately, the opposition parties have no alternative constitutional project. The renewal of our constitution needs to happen in a context of balancing of power. Or else this can only worsen the deep crisis.”
The president's objectives appear to be hard to obtain as the political wind is turning. Certainly, the conservative party retains a strong social base, but support is crumbling. At the heart of AKP voices are being raised, for example that of the ex-president Abdullah Gul, requesting the abandonment of those unconstitutional laws. The opposition camp is evolving. Faced with this security project, the three opposition parties are showing that they can adopt a common position despite their fundamental differences.
The situation is also changing for the Kurdish groups who distrust alliances. The support of certain sections of the Turkish political world during the Kobane battle has consolidated co-operation between Kurdish and Turkish opposition groups. Feeling his position weakening, the head of state, who is known for his paranoid declarations, is re-enforcing his authority through the legalisation of human right violations.
The constitution, last bastion
The outcome of this situation remains uncertain. The parliamentary guerrilla tactics have slowed down President Erdogan's planned legislative offensive. While denouncing anti-constitutional laws voted in and the illegal practices of the police, Ibrahim Kaboğlu recalls that with Article 13 of the constitution “despite appearances, Turkey has a constitution with high standards when it comes to human rights”.
Facing the drift of the authoritarian executive, civil society and human rights groups remain mobilised, as does Ibrahim Kaboğlu. “To be a defender of human rights in Turkey is to take a permanent risk with your personal and professional lives. But there is no question of giving up. French colleagues have offered me a position in France,” he says. “I said that I wish to stay in my country and continue my fight to the end.”
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