Tuesday

26th Jan 2021

Erdoğan to face human rights scrutiny next week, EU says

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's human rights record will weigh on EU leaders' talks on future relations, the European Commission has said.

"While [EU] leaders have focused on the eastern Mediterranean situation in their recent discussions, the negative developments on rule of law, fundamental rights, and other enlargement fundamentals will, of course, have an impact in the charting of the future course of relations," a commission spokeswoman told EUobserver.

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The "Mediterranean situation" referred to Turkey's violations of Cypriot and Greek-claimed maritime zones to drill for gas.

EU leaders will discuss next week whether to blacklist Turkish officials or impose other sanctions.

They will also signal if the Turkey accession process has a long-term future, in a summit billed as a "watershed moment" in EU-Turkey relations by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The commission commented on human rights after pro-Erdoğan judges jailed 337 people for life in a single day last week.

Most of them were young air-force officers accused of taking part in a failed putsch in 2016.

EU diplomats did not monitor the trial, but they take for granted there is no judicial independence in Turkey.

And the commission has been counting the numbers of people involved in the post-coup crackdown.

"By June 2020, a total of 19,583 military officers were dismissed from the service due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement, some 3,600 in 2019 alone," the commission spokeswoman said, referring to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric blamed by Erdoğan for masterminding the putsch.

"Some 6,000 former military personnel were arrested on grounds of their alleged involvement in the attempted coup," the EU spokeswoman added.

Turkey has also detained tens of thousands of civilians.

The commission spokeswoman did not comment if that was proportional to events, since no outsiders have been given access to the criminal files on which the arrests were based.

But she added that respect for human rights and rule of law "embody both the foundations of our [EU-Turkey] relationship and the aspirations of the people of Turkey and the European Union".

The post-coup crackdown also prompted a spike in Turkish asylum applications in the EU.

These went from almost nothing before 2016 to between 1,500 and 2,500 new ones a month, including 1,696 in September this year, according to the European Asylum Support Office, an EU agency in Malta.

About half of Turkish applicants end up getting EU protection.

The individual human stories behind the numbers can be harrowing.

Asked if the EU considered Turkey a safe place to which to return people, the commission said it gave "sufficient protection" to Syrian refugees, which could be returned there on the basis of an EU-Turkey migration deal.

But the EU did not give guidance on whether Turkey was safe for Turkish citizens.

"Irrespective of whether a country is considered safe, each [asylum] application must allow for individual assessment by the competent authorities in the member state concerned," the commission spokeswoman said.

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