The coup attempt is no excuse for Turkey's human rights violations

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
The coup attempt is no excuse for Turkey's human rights violations

There is a proverb in Africa that says “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” Fortunately, not all victims are illiterate and when it comes to human stories, it is often possible to listen to both sides, as long as we are willing to do so.

I am writing this because I feel myself capable of offering the flip side of the story told here on July 9 in an opinion piece by Dr. Hasan Ulusoy, the Turkish Ambassador to Belgium; since I am a political refugee living in Belgium who once used to work as a diplomat for the same foreign ministry.

My employment in the Turkish diplomatic service was summarily terminated by an emergency decree-law a few days after the coup attempt in July 2016. During the two-year-long state of emergency, more than 100.000 public sector employees found themselves at the receiving end of these decrees which in some cases not only ended their careers as civil servants but also cut off their access to their professions entirely.

Rights groups like Amnesty International repeatedly documented the arbitrariness that characterizes these mass dismissals as well as lack of effective legal remedies to challenge them.

While the Inquiry Commission on State of Emergency Measures that Ambassador Ulusoy refers to in his article was indeed acknowledged by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), it has been slammed by legal experts, rights groups and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for being unfit for purpose as a reviewing body due to its lack of independence from executive control, protracted procedures, inadequate procedural safeguards and flawed review process.

If only the crackdown had stopped with the arbitrary dismissals. The post-coup period was also marked by a seemingly endless string of mass detentions and arrests for supposed ties to terrorism, based on scant or downright absurd evidence such as newspaper subscriptions, bank account movements or union memberships.

“Executive control and political influence over the judiciary in Turkey has led to courts systematically accepting bogus indictments, detaining and convicting without compelling evidence of criminal activity individuals and groups Erdoğan's government regards as political opponents,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth recently wrote. “Among these are journalists, opposition politicians, and activists and human rights defenders.”

Turkish courts defied ECtHR orders for the release of imprisoned journalist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala; which renders Ambassador Ulusoy’s references to the ECtHR and the Council of Europe tragically ridiculous.

The Turkish judiciary’s notorious lack independence was perhaps no more self-evident than when Erdoğan himself acknowledged having instructed courts to re-arrest a Lt. General who was acquitted of coup-related charges.

Witness testimonies also played a significant role in the terrorism-related trials with denunciations being construed by Turkish courts as central evidence to prove defendants’ membership in terrorist groups.

At this juncture, it is worth pointing out that numerous allegations of torture in police custody have emerged from Turkey since the abortive coup and Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, has expressed concern that detainees were being subjected to brutal interrogation techniques aimed at extracting forced confessions that incriminate themselves as well as others.

International observers have also complained about a systematic lack of investigation into the allegations, leading to a terrible problem of impunity for the officials involved in the reprehensible practice.

In May 2019, my very former colleagues from the foreign ministry were at the center of one of these gruesome incidents of torture in police custody, which was documented by the Ankara Bar Association.

While foreign affairs representatives like Ambassador Ulusoy often choose to focus on how terrible and unprecedented the coup attempt was and presenting it as some sort of counterweight to what happened afterwards, that is not exactly what you hear from the political leadership, such as President Erdoğan who has described the abortive putsch as a “Gift from God” and other Turkish government executives who have said on the record that the incident was just what they needed in order for them to be able to do what they had been meaning to do for a long time.

All of these red flags naturally raised eyebrows in European and other Western capitals, leading to suspicions as to whether the coup was just a pretext for what appears to be a premeditated assault on dissent. The Turkish government’s narrative has even been openly challenged by European officials like EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove and German intelligence chief Bruno Kahl.

Finally, while Ambassador Ulusoy seems to take offense at the fact that European leaders disagree with Ankara over the course of events of the past four years, he should feel fortunate that he is representing his government in a country like Belgium where freedom of expression is an established norm and the independent media is able to publish views that are not necessarily shared by the local government.

Because I can assure you unequivocally that European ambassadors in Ankara are deprived of this luxury, as Turkey, a global leader in locking up journalists and media workers, ranks 154th out of 180 countries in press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Ali Dinçer

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