Thursday

23rd May 2019

Turkey ends state of emergency but continues crackdown

  • The state of emergency was imposed after the failed coup attempt in July 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey ended a two-year state of emergency on Thursday morning (19 July) but is set to introduce extraordinary measures to keep a tight grip on society.

The emergency regime had been imposed in July 2016 after the coup attempt, which president Recep Tayyip Erdogan attributed to US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

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Since then, over 77,000 people have been arrested and more than 130,000 civil servants, military, lawyers and judges have been dismissed over alleged involvement with Gulen, or with Kurdish movements.

Turkey is also the country with the most jailed journalists, and many newspaper have been shut or taken over by figures close to Erdogan.

"The end of the state of emergency does not mean our fight against terror is going to come to an end," justice minister Abdulhamit Gul said as he presented a new anti-terror bill to be discussed in parliament on Thursday.

Under the bill, some measures from the state of emergency would continue to apply for up to three more years - especially those allowing for the dismissal of public officials.

Suspects would be held without charge for 48 hours or up to four days in case of collective offenses, with a possible extension to 12 days.

Protests and public rallies would be banned after sunset, and local authorities would be able to ban people from certain areas for 15 days.

"The 'coup process' is still under way today," opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told the party's parliamentary group earlier this week, referring to Erdogan's crackdown. "Now, they bring legislation to parliament, to make emergency rule permanent."

"The lifting of the two-year state of emergency is a step in the right direction," said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International's deputy Europe director. But he insisted that "[this] alone will not reverse this crackdown."

"What is needed is systematic action to restore respect for human rights, allow civil society to flourish again and lift the suffocating climate of fear that has engulfed the country," he said.

The lifting of the state of emergency, at the end of seven extensions, and the new bill, come three weeks after Erdogan was reelected president and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won parliamentary elections.

Erdogan's victory was greeted by a brief, cold message from the presidents of the European Commission and Council, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, indicating the bad state of relations between Turkey and the EU.

Juncker has warned several times that Turkey, a candidate country, was "moving away" from the EU because of the crackdown since the failed coup and the strengthening of Erdogan's personal power.

In its latest accession report, in April, the EU commission noted that "the broad scale and collective nature, and the disproportionality of measures taken since the attempted coup under the state of emergency, such as widespread dismissals, arrests, and detentions, continue to raise serious concerns."

It called on Turkey to lift "without delay" the state of emergency.

In a statement later on Thursday, the commission said that the adoption of the new bill "granting extraordinary powers to the authorities and retaining several restrictive elements of the state of emergency would dampen any positive effect of its termination."

While accession talks are stuck, the European Parliament called last year for a "temporary freeze," and some EU countries have demanded the end of the talks.

"EU membership negotiations with Turkey should be stopped immediately," Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said last week.

Turkey's anti-terror legislation is also blocking talks to lift visas for Turks coming to the EU.

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