Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (r) with EU Council president Charles Michel (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Turkey has jailed hundreds of people for life for taking part in the failed putsch in 2016, as EU leaders prepare to decide on future relations.

The mass-sentencing took place in Ankara on Thursday (26 November) after a three-year long trial.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It saw 337 people, most of them young air-force officers from the Akinci air-base, imprisoned for life.

The Turkish trial also charged Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the US, with masterminding the failed attempt to kill president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

"The Turkish justice system is continuing to bring the treacherous coup-plotters to account," Turkish justice minister Abdulhamit Gül tweeted on Thursday.

The EU did not comment on the latest step in Erdoğan's crackdown, which has seen tens of thousands of people, including human rights defenders, artists, and opposition MPs, detained and more than 2,000 life sentences handed out already.

But the European Commission gave a withering assessment of Erdoğan's courts in a report in October.

There was "systemic lack of independence of the judiciary" and "political pressure on judges and prosecutors" to hand out pro-government verdicts, it said.

Meanwhile, EU diplomats never believed Erdoğan's story on the Gül plot, according to a leaked intelligence assessment from 2017.

And other leaks have indicated Erdoğan stage-managed aspects of the putsch to help impose his one-man rule.

The mass-jailing comes as EU leaders prepare to discuss future Turkey relations at a summit in December.

Some, led by Cyprus and France, were already calling for EU sanctions over Erdoğan's aggressive behaviour in the eastern Mediterranean.

The US has also threatened sanctions over Turkey's purchase of a Russian air-defence system in a further rift with the West.

But for Numan Kurtulmuş, the Turkish ruling party's deputy chairman, there was still time for last-minute deals.

"The US president will most likely watch the balance in the Middle East very carefully for US interests, and will not want to continue the tense ties with Turkey," Kurtulmuş told the Reuters news agency.

"I believe they [the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden] will take positive steps," Kurtulmuş said.

"We act by thinking about what reforms we need, what steps to democratisation will benefit our people and move on that path, not by thinking what act or rhetoric would please them [the EU]," Kurtulmuş also said, referring to the potential EU sanctions.

Turkey expected the EU to impose symbolic or "toothless" measures only in December, according to Asli Aydıntaşbaş, from the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank in Istanbul.

No one believed Turkey was still on course for EU membership, she recently told EUobserver.

"[But] Turkey sees Europe is divided ... and that France and Germany have major differences in how to deal with it," Aydıntaşbaş said, after German chancellor Angela Merkel had worked the phone with Erdoğan in recent weeks to try to soothe tensions.

Turkish diplomacy

Many Turkish military officers and diplomats posted to EU capitals had suffered in Erdoğan's post-coup crackdown, according to Jamie Shea, a former Nato official who now works for British think-tank Chatham House.

"Lots of Turkish bilateral military attachés sought asylum" in Europe due to Erdoğan's purge, Shea recently told this website, in what he called "very difficult circumstances".

But relations remained good at the institutional level, Shea added, even if political ties had deteriorated in recent years.

Turkey still posted "first-class military officers to Nato command," Shea, who left the Nato HQ in Brussels in 2018, said.

And "the [Turkish] diplomatic service continues to function very well. The quality of Turkish diplomacy, and I've worked with a lot of Turkish diplomats, is very high," Shea said.

Analysis

There is no 'Russia-Turkey alliance'

Talk of a grand Turkey-Russia realignment is premature, Nato and Russia experts say - despite Putin and Erdoğan's friendly ties.

Von der Leyen: 'I felt alone as a woman'

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen blamed sexism for having been relegated to a sofa in Ankara during a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the presence of European Council president Charles Michel.

Opinion

Time for dither and delay with Ankara's rights record is over

I know first-hand how difficult it is to take a firm stance against Turkey. As Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, I engaged in tough discussions with Ankara, wrote highly-critical reports, and tried to rally member states.

Feature

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

Feature

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

Latest News

  1. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  2. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  3. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  4. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  5. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  6. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  7. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines
  8. EU urban-rural divide not bridged by cohesion policy, report finds

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us